In the recently published ‘The Road to Practical E-Textiles is Smooth as Silk,’ the research of Zhang et al. outlines a new method of 3D printing that could be the catalyst for creating energy harvesting fabrics in E-textiles, leading to better performance in electronics and wearables.
As consumer electronics and those that can be worn, become more progressive and more available, researchers continue to strive for advances in digital technology and performance for components like sensors—much of which is propelled by miniaturization processes also. Power, energy, and batteries are always a challenge, however, as any of us know just from trying to keep a cell phone up and running daily. The researchers point out that many wearables today are required to be bulky because they must encompass a battery. Biocompatibility can be an issue too now as consumers desire to wear so many different novel and innovative devices.
Energy harvesting is a new concept to many, described by the authors as ‘a compelling complementary solution to onboard batteries.’ Energy can, in fact, be harvested from ambient light or kinetic energy made by the wearer—and then stored in devices like capacitors. This is where piezoelectric materials and triboelectric generators enter the picture; however, challenges remain in terms of structural design and production, and so much so that the researchers are concerned that much of this new technology could remain ‘mere lab-scale curiosities.’ And Zhang and the team of researchers search for solutions, they have created a 3D printing triboelectric generator composed of a silk fibroin (SF) sheath and an electrically conductive core of carbon nanotubes (CNT).
In manufacturing silk fibroin and carbon nanotube inks, the research team 3D printed SF and CNT into fibers which could feasibly be used to make complex networks. This process can also be used to integrate triboelectric fibers with existing fabrics.
In using biocompatible commodity materials, the researchers foresee greater options for the textiles industry, especially since CNT@SF coaxial fibers are non-toxic in terms of wearables to be attached to human skin. SF can also be used and is ‘ideally suited,’ due to its ability to form a triboelectric pair with poly(ethylene terephthalate) (PET).
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