NCSU : Yarn-shaped supercapacitors for smar...

Yarn-shaped supercapacitors for smart textiles

(Source: NC State/Wilson College)
(Source: NC State/Wilson College)

New findings could help advance the development of “smart textiles” that would capture energy from the wearer’s movements and power sensors and wearable electronics. Researchers of North Carolina State University researchers found a way to prevent electrical malfunctions in yarns designed to store electrical energy. 
Short-circuiting in yarns that act as supercapacitors, which are electrical devices that store energy, could be prevented by wrapping the yarns with an insulating thread. The strength and durability of the yarns has also been tested to make sure they could still work after going through knitting and weaving processes. 

“A supercapacitor functions like a battery, but in this case, we’re working on a flexible battery shaped as a textile yarn that you could weave or knit into your T-shirt or sweater. In this study, we have woven this yarn into a piece of fabric so that it can store electrical energy, and eventually we want to use it to power whatever electronic devices you need, whether it be a sensor, a light or even a cell phone”, said Wei Gao, associate professor of textile engineering, chemistry and science and a University Faculty Scholar at North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC/USA.  

While research into these so-called “yarn-shaped supercapacitors” is promising, researchers say developers face a consistent problem with their design: the yarn-shaped supercapacitors are more likely to short circuit as their length increases. Short-circuiting is when the electric current flows through an unintended path. It is a safety concern because a short circuit can result in a burst of heat energy or even a fire.
To solve that problem, the researchers tested what would happen when they wrapped the super-capacitor yarn electrodes with insulating threads. The idea was that the threads would act as a physical barrier, keeping the opposite electrodes from contacting each other and preventing short-circuiting. They tested their device’s performance by connecting the electrodes to a power source and recording the device’s current response. They also tested how well the yarns were able to hold a charge. They found that the yarns kept 90% of the initial energy after charging and discharging them 10,000 times. 

The researchers also tested if they could withstand bending and stretching by weaving their yarn-shaped supercapacitors into a fabric.
The yarn-shaped supercapacitor was made using processes that are conventional in textile manufacturing. In future work, the researchers want to incorporate their design into a garment and want to try to integrate it with other energy-generating devices. 

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