A research team, headed by Dr Nazmul Karim and Professor Sir Kostya Novoselov at The University of Manchester, has come up with a novel technique to create scalable yarns based on graphene.
A significant amount of interest has been shown toward multi-functional wearable e-textiles, because of their excellent potential for aerospace, fitness, sportswear, and healthcare applications.
For such kinds of applications, graphene has been regarded as a promising material owing to its flexibility and high conductivity. In graphene, each atom is exposed to its environment enabling it to perceive the changes in its surroundings, therefore rendering it a suitable material for sensors.
In the recent past, smart wearable textiles have undergone a renaissance, thanks to the miniaturization, innovation, and wireless revolution. While considerable efforts have been made to incorporate textile-based sensors into garments, present manufacturing processes are costly, complicated, and takes plenty of time, and added to this, the types of materials used are non-biodegradable as well as materials that are metallic, conductive, and unstable.
As reported in ACS Nano, the novel process devised by the researchers based at the National Graphene Institute shows promise for creating tons of conductive graphene-based yarn, through current textile machinery and without increasing the production expense.
Apart from creating the conductive graphene-based yarns in huge amounts, these materials are also biodegradable, low-cost, flexible, and washable. Sensors like these can possibly be incorporated into a low-powered Bluetooth or a self-powered RFID to wirelessly transmit data to mobile devices.
However, one major obstacle with regards to the development of wearable e-textiles is the need for bulky components to drive them. Earlier, it has not been easy, if not impossible, to integrate these components without affecting the comfort or properties of the material, which has witnessed the growth of personal smart devices, for example, fitness watches.
To introduce a new exciting material such as graphene to a very traditional and well established textile industry, the greatest challenge is the scalability of the manufacturing process. Here we overcome this challenge by producing graphene materials and graphene-based textiles using a rapid and ultrafast production process. Our reported technology to produce thousand kilograms of graphene-based yarn in an hour is a significant breakthrough for the textile industry.
Dr Shaila Afroj, Study Lead Author, University of Manchester
Afroj conducted the project during her PhD.
High performance clothing is going through a transformation currently, thanks to recent innovations in textiles. There has been growing interests from the textile community into utilizing excellent and multifunctional properties of graphene for smart and functional clothing applications. We believe our ultrafast production process for graphene-based textiles would be an important step towards realizing next generation high performance clothing.
Dr Nazmul Karim, Knowledge Exchange Fellow (Graphene), National Graphene Institute, University of Manchester
Karim is the other lead author of the study.