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Cotton t-shirt may soon charge gadgets

Posted: 05 Jul 2012     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:storage device  supercapacitor  manganese oxide  electrical power  activated carbon 

Soon, your cotton T-shirt will charge your phones, tablets and other devices. The University of South Carolina's Xiaodong Li envisions a future where electronics are part of our wardrobe.

"We wear fabric every day," said Li, a professor of mechanical engineering at USC. "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."

Li, along with his associate Lihong Bao, is working on how to turn the material in a cotton T-shirt into a source of electrical power.

The team soaked the store-bought T-shirt in a solution of fluoride, dried it and baked it at high temperature, and excluded oxygen in the oven to prevent the material from charring or simply combusting.

The surfaces of the resulting fibres in the fabric were shown by infrared spectroscopy to have been converted from cellulose to activated carbon. Yet the material retained flexibility; it could be folded without breaking.

Then, the researchers found the activated carbon fabric acts like double-layer capacitors, which are also called a supercapacitor because they can have particularly high energy storage densities.

They then coated the individual fibres in the activated carbon textile with "nanoflowers" of manganese oxide. Just a nanometre thick, this layer of manganese oxide greatly enhanced the electrode performance of the fabric. "This created a stable, high-performing supercapacitor."

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

"By stacking these supercapacitors up, we should be able to charge portable electronic devices such as cell phones," Li said.

Their method for making the fabric capacitor is inexpensive and doesn't use environmentally harmful chemicals, Li added.





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