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The future of wearable technology? You’re already wearing it

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Dr Amor Abdelkader, pictured, Associate Professor in Advanced Materials at BU

A new method of improving battery life in wearable technology has been developed and the key might be in the clothes that we wear every day. The technology enables the use of smaller battery cells, allowing for larger capacities.

A new technology, developed by a researcher from Bournemouth University (BU), in collaboration with the University of Cambridge and China University of Geosciences, uses textiles as battery cells, which significantly improves the amount of energy that can be stored, meaning that the new battery could potentially power an object as energy intensive as a laptop or smartphone.

An increase in the use of wearable technology has also created a need for high performance batteries that could be used in military uniforms, elite sportswear and even new classes of wearable computers. Traditional Lithium-ion batteries, which have been used since 1991, have been considered as offering promising solutions to this challenge.

However, creating a flexible battery for wearable technology such as clothing has proved difficult, up until now. The brittle nature of traditional materials making up lithium-ion batteries and the materials that have been added to enable them to be attached to textiles have yielded structures that are either too inflexible or too low in battery storage capacity and power.

The new method developed by BU’s Dr Amor Abdelkader, in collaboration with Dr Kai Xi and Professor Vasant Kumar from the University of Cambridge and Dr Xin Min from China University of Geosciences, uses a novel 3D structure approach to bind the electronic materials to the clothing textiles.

Dr Amor Abdelkader, Associate Professor of Advanced Materials at Bournemouth University, said: “We found that this new structure made a real difference to the mechanical strength of the battery, including increasing its flexibility under stress which is important for the development of wearable technology. Clothing designed for the military or elite sportspeople, for example, needs to be able to perform under extreme conditions.”

“Batteries are quite simple devices, consisting of layers of two electrodes and one electrolyte, further supported by current collectors and packaging,” explained Professor Kumar, “However, the ways in which these layers can be put together is quite diverse and as yet, architecture for flexibility are barely exploited. Our model shows a new way forward in terms of bringing together both the active and the supporting materials, which has enabled the creation of highly efficient yet flexible batteries.”

Dr Xin Min, a lecturer from China University of Geosciences and visiting scholar the University of Cambridge, said “We found that our method significantly improved battery life and storage. Previous attempts to develop the capability of lithium-ion batteries for wearable technology have created solutions that tended to have only a limited battery life and power. However, when tested, our method proved to be working at a much higher capacity and retained that capacity for a longer period than other prototype models.”

Not only has the battery proved to be more effective than previous prototypes, but it is also more sustainable. The process uses fewer materials, which makes it easier to manufacture and importantly, does not contain chemicals that could cause damage to the environment.

“For the wearable technology industry, this is a really significant step forward and opens up the potential to develop the next generation of wearable devices in clothing,” said the study’s lead author Dr Kai Xi.

Edited by Neo Sesinye
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