July 11, 2012

Your T-Shirt May Soon Charge Your Mobile Devices

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

Could a dollar-store T-shirt someday help you charge your smartphone or tablet computer on the go? It may sound fanciful, but researchers at one American university are experimenting with technology capable of doing just that.
Mechanical Engineering Professor Xiaodong Li and Post-Doctorate Lihong Bao, both of the University of South Carolina, are working on a way to turn the fabric of a simple piece of clothing into a "supercapacitor" capable of providing power to mobile devices on the go, according to BBC News reports.

Writing in the journal Advanced Materials, the duo explained how they took a cotton shirt purchased from a local discount store and turned it into an electrically-charged piece of hybrid clothing.

First, they soaked it in a fluoride solution, then dried it and baked it in an oxygen-free oven to prevent charring or combustion. Doing so turned the material from cellulose to activated carbon, but allowed it to remain flexible and fold without breaking, the university said in a press release.

They were able to use portions of the fabric as an electrode, and demonstrated that they could make the material work like a capacitor, a component found in most electronic devices that is capable of storing electrical charge. Next, they coated individual fibers of the activated carbon textile with what they called "nanoflowers" of manganese oxide -- a nanometer-thick layer that enhanced the electrode performance of the fabric.

"This hybrid fabric, in which the activated carbon textile fibers are coated with nanostructured manganese oxide, improved the energy storage capability beyond the activated carbon textile alone," the university said. "The hybrid supercapacitors were resilient: even after thousands of charge-discharge cycles, performance didn't diminish more than 5 percent."

"By stacking these supercapacitors up, we should be able to charge portable electronic devices such as cell phones," Prof Li told BBC News. "We wear fabric every day. One day our cotton T-shirts could have more functions; for example, a flexible energy storage device that could charge your cell phone or your iPad."