Scientists from RMIT University in Australia have developed a method for producing textiles embedded with energy storage devices.

The method is said to produce a 10x10cm smart textile patch in just three minutes that’s waterproof, stretchable and readily integrated with energy harvesting technologies. The researchers say that this technology will enable graphene supercapacitors – powerful and long-lasting energy storage devices that are easily combined with solar or other sources of power – to be laser-printed directly onto textiles.

The research analysed the performance of the proof-of-concept smart textile across a range of mechanical, temperature and washability tests, and found it remained stable and efficient.

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

“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.”

Min Gu, RMIT honorary professor and distinguished professor at the University of Shanghai for science and technology, said the technology could enable real-time storage of renewable energies for e-textiles. She said: “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.”

The growing smart fabrics industry has diverse applications in wearable devices for the consumer, healthcare and defence 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. The RMIT researchers have applied for a patent for the new technology, which was developed with support from RMIT Seed Fund and Design Hub project grants.