Battery Powered Clothing To Charge Mobile Devices

Scientists are claiming to have a solution for the curse of the modern day road warrior – the dreaded flat battery.

Boffins at the Polytechnic School of Montreal, Canada, unveiled a flexible lithium-ion battery that can be woven unobtrusively into fabrics, according to a New Scientist report. This could be a T-shirt for example, in order to provide power for everyday gadgets.

Power dressing

The concept of placing batteries on clothing is not a new one but, according to research team leader Maksim Skorobogatiy, the previously announced flexible batteries have never been built into the fabric of a garment.

In order to achieve this, the scientists sandwiched a solid polyethylene oxide electrolyte between a lithium iron phosphate cathode and lithium titanate anode to build the battery. All of these are thermoplastic materials, which can be stretched under mild heating, making it ideal for adapting it for use in clothing.

The resulting material looks like artificial leather. Strips of this were stretched before the team wove them into cotton fabrics and used conductive threads to connect these “batteries” in series. This configuration was used to power LED lights.

“It’s the first fully wearable, soft lithium-ion battery that uses no liquid electrolytes,” Skorobogatiy was reported as saying by the science magazine.

What could this wearable battery actually power? According to the researchers, a garment made of the material could provide up to hundreds of volts, meaning it could be used to deliver power to a dying gadget in an emergency.

“We have enough power to emit a powerful distress signal or even save a life by defibrillating a patient,” Skorobogatiy said.

Before we can expect to see battery-powered T-shirts at our local M&S, a quick reality check is needed because there is still a way to go with this development while the researchers find ways to make the material both waterproof and washable.

The scientists have published a technical whitepaper on their work.

Booting up

Last June, mobile operator Orange said it was testing a T-shirt that charges mobile handsets by converting sound waves into power.

Dubbed the Orange ‘Sound Charge’ T-shirt, the prototype had been developed in conjunction with renewable energy experts at GotWind, and underwent live testing at last year’s Glastonbury Festival.

This was not the first time Orange had produced an ingenious power-charging solution ahead of the festival season. In June, 2010, it unveiled the so-called “Orange Power Wellies” that used a “power-generating sole” to convert heat from the wearers feet into an electrical current.

Other approaches have focused on improving existing battery technology, such as the “all day battery” offered on some laptops. Other scientists have tweaked the power consuming habits of smartphones and other gadgets.

Meanwhile, there is also the “eco-charging” option for clothing and accessories which makes use of solar panels, or relies on the movement of the user. TechWeek Europe for example has previously reviewed the Infinit backpack, which featured a solar panel on a rucksack.

Nokia also previously offered a Bicycle Charger Kit, which allowed users to charge their handsets using pedal power. The unit consisted of a charger and dynamo, as well as a holder to secure the phone to the user’s bike.

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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