A team of researchers at the University of Manchester in the UK is working on a method to manufacture graphene-based wearable e-textiles on an industrial scale.
The team is led by Professor Kostya Novoselov who along with colleague Andre Geim was the first to successfully isolate graphene. The scientists did so at the University of Manchester in 2004.
The researchers published a paper on their method in peer-reviewed scientific journal ACS Nano at the end of 2017.
The new method involves reversing the process previously used to coat textiles with graphene-based materials. Rather than first coating the textiles with graphene oxide before reducing it to its functional form, the researchers have instead reduced the graphene oxide in solution before coating the textiles with this reduced form.
This allows a coating technique known as padding to be used, a method commonly used to apply functional finishes to textiles. According to the paper published in ACS Nano, a commercial pad-dry unit is able to process around 150 metres of fabrics per minute. This would be considerably more efficient than the laboratory methods currently used to coat textiles with graphene-based substances.
According to the researchers, e-textiles made by a laboratory-scale pad-dry unit have shown excellent electrical and mechanical properties. Tests are said to have shown the graphene oxide forms a uniform coating around individual cotton fibres, offering good electrical conductivity, tensile strength, breathability and flexibility.
"To be able to produce graphene-based wearable e-textiles in scalable quantity at very high speed is a significant breakthrough for the rapidly growing wearables market," explained Nazmul Karim, first author at the University of Manchester. “Our simple and cost-effective way of producing multifunctional graphene textiles could easily be scaled up for many real-life applications, such as sportswear, military gear, and medical clothing."