Flexible electronics and electronic textiles have been improving over the last ten years, and people have gotten close but nobody has been able to solve the “totally bendable and flexible” problem of electronic surfaces. Until now.
A honeycomb lattice made of carbon, graphene is not the flashiest of materials. But this flexible, extremely strong, and virtually transparent substance has a hidden power: At one atom thick, it is the thinnest material known that is capable of conducting electricity. A consortium of European academics have leveraged this property, discovering a way to coat fabric fibers with graphene to create, in their words, “the world’s first truly electronic textile.”
The discovery, which comprises growing graphene onto copper foil and then transferring it onto fibers commonly used in the textile industry, paves the way for integrating transportable electronic devices into everyday fabrics. So that dream of imbuing a T-shirt with GPS capabilities, having a hoodie double as a phone, or even creating upholstery that plays music files? This washable wiring makes those possibilities one large step closer.
“The other wearable products currently available require attaching small electronic equipment onto clothes, and then using conductive textiles with metal wires embedded in the fabrics to conduct the charge,” explains research co-author Monica Craciun, an associate professor at the Centre for Graphene Science at the U.K.’s University of Exeter. This new graphene textile requires neither, as it potentially “could have nano electronic devices built right on top of it,” she says.
This has more applications than can be named in an article. If it scales, it is a really fantastic discovery.