RMIT Researchers Develop Self-Powering Smart Fabric Using Laser Printing Technology

RMIT laser printed smart fabric
Image credit: RMIT

The growing smart fabrics industry has diverse applications in wearable devices for the consumer, health care and defense sectors – from monitoring vital signs of patients, to tracking the location and health status of soldiers in the field, and monitoring pilots or drivers for fatigue.

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Researchers from Melbourne’s RMIT University envision a future where waterproof smart fabrics will be laser printed and manufactured in minutes. They have developed a rapid, cost-efficient, and scalable method for printing textiles with embedded energy storage devices.

In just three minutes, this new technology can produce a 10x10cm smart textile patch that’s waterproof, stretchable and readily integrated with energy harvesting technologies, reports RMIT.

To create these smart textiles, the RMIT team used laser printing to embed the graphene supercapacitors directly into the fabric. The researchers believe their new smart textiles could be applied to various markets including consumer, healthcare, and defense.

In a proof-of-concept, the researchers connected the supercapacitor with a solar cell, delivering an efficient, washable and self-powering smart fabric that overcomes the key drawbacks of existing e-textile energy storage technologies.

Dr Litty Thekkakara, a researcher in RMIT’s School of Science, said smart textiles with built-in sensing, wireless communication or health monitoring technology called for robust and reliable energy solutions.

Smart fabric
Dr Litty Thekkakara, RMIT researcher and co-developer of new technology for rapidly fabricating textiles embedded with energy storage devices (Image credit: RMIT, Melbourne)

“Current approaches to smart textile energy storage, like stitching batteries into garments or using e-fibers, can be cumbersome and heavy, and can also have capacity issues,” Thekkakara said.

“These electronic components can also suffer short-circuits and mechanical failure when they come into contact with sweat or with moisture from the environment.

“Our graphene-based supercapacitor is not only fully washable, it can store the energy needed to power an intelligent garment – and it can be made in minutes at large scale.

“By solving the energy storage-related challenges of e-textiles, we hope to power the next generation of wearable technology and intelligent clothing.”

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RMIT Honorary Professor and Distinguished Professor at the University of Shanghai for Science and Technology, Min Gu, said the technology could enable real-time storage of renewable energies for e-textiles.

“It also opens the possibility for faster roll-to-roll fabrication, with the use of advanced laser printing based on multifocal fabrication and machine learning techniques,” Gu said.