The wearable technology industry has risen rapidly in recent years and is showing no signs of slowing down. Some studies estimate that the wearable technology market will be worth USD $19 billion by the year 2018. This rise in wearables has led to researchers looking for the best techniques for making wearable technology as efficiently as possible. In keeping with this, graphene-coated cotton has been created by a team of researchers from Cambridge and China which will be beneficial for wearable technology in the near future.

What Is Graphene?

Graphene is an extremely thin layer of pure carbon. Graphene was discovered (or rather, created) in 2002 when scientists at the University of Manchester separated an atomic layer of graphite with the use of sticky tape.  In 2010, the fascinating material even won the Nobel prize. In late 2016, the world’s first dress made from graphene was created which lights up when the wearer breathes, thus proving the vast potential that this material holds in the textile industry.

Graphene is a truly spectacular compound. Measuring one atom in thickness, it is the thinnest compound that we know of (extremely small when compared to, for example, a tiny pin header). It is also the lightest material that exists on the planet and at the same time, it is the strongest material that we know of, with its strength being 100-300 times greater than that of steel.

This means graphene is one of the most durable and flexible products while also being great for conduction. These properties have made it popular for use in flexible and transparent displays; for example, smartphone screens.

 Uses of Graphene

Graphene is used to coat applications in the aerospace and automotive industries. It is also used in smartphones, televisions and wearable technology. It can be used to make electronic circuits in computers as well as touch screen coating on smartphones.

Graphene can also be used in areas other than electronics and this can include wearable electronics.

 Initial Problems Due to Toxins

When graphene was initially becoming available for research and for commercial uses, a problem arose. Not only was it expensive to create high quality graphene, but it also involved using toxic chemicals to grow the substance. This was done by exposing platinum or titanium carbine to ethylene at high temperatures. In order to make this substance transfer on to clothing, a non-toxic process had to be devised.

Non-Toxic Process

In order to make graphene suitable for exposure to humans, it was imperative to devise a non-toxic process and in 2011, this is exactly what researchers at the Cambridge Graphene Centre (CGC) at the University of Cambridge did.

The researchers worked in collaboration with scientists at the Jiangan University in China to develop a non-toxic method for transferring graphene ink on to cotton clothing. The conductive ink is made by mixing small flakes of graphene with ink, thereby allowing electrodes to be printed.

 Why Cotton?

Cotton is one of the most commonly used materials in clothing due to its light weight and breathability. Graphene ink sticks better to cotton than other materials and can last longer. Even after several washes, graphene ink on cotton remains conductive, which is important for wearable technology.

Dr. Felice Torrisi and his team at the Cambridge Graphene Centre collaborated with scientists at Jiangnan University, China, and have devised a method for depositing graphene-based inks on to cotton to produce a conductive textile.

This new process is a low-cost and environment-friendly method for transferring graphene ink on cotton clothing. Dr. Torrisi and his team have created graphene inks that were specifically more adhesive to cotton fibres. After the ink is deposited on the fabric, a heat treatment improves the conductivity of the graphene.

 What about Other Conductive Inks?

The difference between graphene and other conductive inks that are made from precious metals such as silver is that the latter are not sustainable and create expensive inks. Graphene, on the other hand, is both, environment-friendly and compatible with cotton.

According to Professor Chaoxia Wang of Jiangnan University, “This method will allow us to put electronic systems directly into clothes.”

This technology has positive implications for clothing because although currently there are wearable sensors that have already been developed, they use predominantly hard electronic components, possibly similar to those manufactured by ismolex, that are mounted on plastic films and other flexible materials. Not only are these uncomfortable to wear, they are easily damaged after a few washes. Unlike cotton, these materials are uncomfortable because they are not breathable.

Innovative Uses

A great option for future uses of graphene in clothing is to coat clothes with the material to increase their resistance to fire. Another great idea is to enhance smog masks using graphene to protect the wearer from pollutants.

Wearable technology, when successfully applied on cotton clothing, has immense potential for data collection for marketers. Smart clothing has the potential to collect data about a person’s emotional state based on their biological reaction to the environment. This can potentially help marketers figure out if their efforts are evoking the desired results in people.

Using location-sensing technology, marketers can tailor adverts based on a consumer’s location. For example, if you are walking past an electronics store known as a female header manufacturer, then the wearable clothing will make it possible to send you targeted adverts related to those products in your exact location.

Final Thoughts

Whether or not we are aware of it, we are all connected to electronics in one way or another. Whether it’s monitoring your home using close-circuit television, heating your home using intelligent temperature sensors or monitoring your health with the help of wearable electronics, there is simply no avoiding the fact that electronics have the potential to greatly improve our lives. Clothing, however, is an area where toxins cannot be accepted and this latest process will help greatly in the creation of graphene-coated cotton clothing, and in the integration of electronics in clothing.