DAFT though the notion might seem, one day you could be plugging your iPod or mobile phone, or similar communications device, into your T-shirt or jeans for power and then, wait for it, recharging the clothing overnight.
Scientists in California – it had to be the Sunshine State – are working towards exactly that dream.
The possible key is finding an easy way of changing ordinary cotton and polyester into “conductive energy textiles” – e-Textiles that double as a rechargeable battery.
“Wearable electronics represent a developing new class of materials with an array of novel functionalities, such as flexibility, stretchability and lightweight, which allow for many applications and designs previously impossible with traditional electronics technology,” Yi Cui and colleagues say in a report.
“High-performance sportswear, wearable displays, new classes of portable power and embedded health-monitoring systems are examples of these novel applications.”
The report describes a new process for making E-textiles that uses “ink” made from single-walled carbon nanotubes – electrically conductive carbon fibres barely 1/50,000 the width of a human hair.
When applied to cotton and polyester fabrics, the ink produced e-Textiles with an excellent ability to store electricity. The fabrics retained the flexibility and stretchability of conventional cotton and polyester and kept their new e-properties under conditions that simulated repeated laundering.
Meanwhile, scientists at Arizona University are working on a project that could one day lead to solar energy converters based on tough, flexible and extremely low-cost plastic substrates that could even be incorporated into clothing.