Graphene to make revolutionary changes in smart clothing technology

    
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Throughout the human history, cloth remains an integral part of daily life. Its raw material natural fibers have been used for apparel and home furnishings for thousands of years. The Industrial Revolution of the eighteenth century was a breakthrough in the textile sector and another revolution in this sector was the discovery of synthetic fibers at the start of the 20th century.

In the 21st century, advancement in textiles have been directed to the development of smart textiles and E- textiles by employing fibers equipped with specific properties, including the electrical, thermal, waterproof and other technical characteristics. Several strategies have been developed to fabricate conductive textiles for various purposes. But still now the main obstacle in the development of smart textile is integrating smart devices, conductive materials with fibers, fabric structure and different parts of cloth due to overweight, rigidness, non-resistance to water etc.

All these drawbacks are going to be overcome by Graphene. In 2004, Andre Geim, Konstantin Novoselov and collaborators in the University of Manchester (UK) (Manchester is known as the city of Gaphene) and the Institute of Technology in Microelectronics Chernogolovka (Russia) succeeded in isolating graphene sheets. The development of this technique called exfoliated graphene. It is an amazing new two dimensional material, consisting of carbon atom arranged in a perfect hexagonal lattice. Another structure of carbon is graphite where the carbon atoms are laid out and stacked up in sheets. If we separate out just one atomic layer of graphite, this is graphene. Recently the UK particularly is investing heavily in this advanced material.

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Figure 1: Separation of graphene from graphite

Graphene is the thinnest material known to the world and only one atom thick, an atom is a million times thinner than the diameter of a single human hair. It has some amazing properties, it is fantastically strong, very light, extremely flexible, highly transparent and it conducts electricity and heat better than almost any other material. This new material of the future will revolutionize all sectors, including the textile sector, both from the technical point of view and from the design of intelligent clothing.

It can be applied in smart textile temperature sensors, electrical sensors and can replace synthetic fibers (polyester, nylon), due to the lightness, greater elasticity and greater conductivity. It can also reduce weight in clothes, and decrease the storage volume of them. The graphene fibers can be used to introduce chemical sensing properties into textile materials by means of a screen printing method.

Recent development of Graphene based smart textiles

Graphene has already made a huge blast in the next step of wearable technology. Recently, researchers teamed up with a wearable technology company to unveil the world’s first Light Black Dress (LBD) containing graphene at the Trafford Centre in Manchester. The dress has changed color in sync with the wearer’s breathing, using tiny LED lights where graphene was used to power the LED lights and as a sensor to record the wearer’s breathing.

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Figure 2: Model wears world’s first graphene dress at Manchester launch. (Source: Guardian)

Another renowned company Directa Plus, a producer and supplier of graphene-based products, teamed up with Colmar, the high-end sportswear company has launched a new collection of SKI jackets containing graphene based products. The new technology SKI jacket contains graphene Plus (G+) and worn by the French national SKI team for multiple successful tournaments. It was explained that the key benefit of incorporating G+ is that it enables the fabric to act as a filter between the body and the external environment, ensuring the ideal temperature for the wearer.

Due to the thermal conductive properties of graphene, the warmth produced by the human body is preserved and distributed evenly in cold climates and allows an even body temperature during physical activity.

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Figure 3: Graphene Plus (G+) SKI Jacke (Source: https://www.graphene-info.com/tags/textiles)

A Chinese company called Shanghai Kyorene New Material Technology has also developed a graphene fiber that has been used to produce clothes, sportswear and underwear products.

Recently, researchers have designed a low-cost, sustainable and environmentally-friendly method for making conductive cotton fabrics using graphene. These fabrics could lead to smart textiles and interactive clothes that will find applications in healthcare, wearable and more. Functionalization of these conductive cotton fabrics was done by thermal reduction of graphene oxide (GO) adsorbed on cotton. Besides researchers have created two ways to apply thin graphene sheets that either make fabric super-hydrophobic or super-hydrophilic.

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Figure 4: Preparation process of RGO/cotton and photos corresponding to (a) pure cotton, (b) GO/cotton and (c) RGO/cotton
A team of scientists in Korea also announced the successful development of a technology to make a washable, flexible and highly-sensitive textile-type gas sensor. This technology is based on coating graphene using molecular adhesives to fiber like nylon, cotton, or polyester so that the fabric can check whether or not gas exists in the air.
When graphene oxides meet the NO2 found in methane gases at room temperatures, their resistivity changes based on the gas density. Consequently, when putting out a fire or entering an area in which air conditions are hard to determine, it will be possible for firefighters to check the condition of the air through a connected device by wearing work clothes with gas sensors made from graphene.

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Figure 5: Graphene-based textile sensor for gas detection
Graphene has also strong cytotoxicity towards bacteria. So, this can be highlighted for maternity clothes to create coatings that prevent the growth of bacteria on the surface of the fabrics, thus protecting the pregnant against possible diseases transmitted by bacteria. This type of protection will be very useful in gynecologists, nurses and midwives clothing who assist the birthing woman in order to avoid spreading bacterial infections in newborns.

From the time of the invention of graphene, it is magically changing the modern technology and researchers predict that it is going to make science fiction comes true. It has a wide range of applications in almost every sector and it will highly contribute in $22 billion technical textile market by 2027. After all, we have to keep in mind that graphene is made of carbon, which is everywhere in nature and in fact it’s a part of our body as well. The problem with graphene is the same that, this size nano material could be harmful. Therefore more research has already undertaken to determine if graphene is harmful to the body and this is very crucial for the commercialization and development of graphene based products.

References:

[1] Mari Luz Jiménez Castro, Fuenllana Technological Institute of Madrid, Spain, a revolution in textile & fashion design,Global Fashion 2014

[2] Guangming Caia, Zhenglin Xua, Mengyun Yanga, Bin Tanga,b,∗, Xungai Wanga,b, Functionalization of cotton fabrics through thermal reduction of graphene oxide, Wuhan Textile University, Wuhan 430073, China b Deakin University, Geelong, Institute for Frontier Materials, Australia 11 October 2016

[3] Yuanqing Li,*a Yarjan Abdul Samad,b and Kin Liao*a,b, From Cotton to Wearable Pressure Sensor, January 2012

[4] https://www.graphene-info.com/tags/textiles

[5] https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/jan/25/first-dress-graphene-unveiled-in-manchester-wonder-material

[6] https://www.graphene-info.com/etri-scientists-develop-graphene-based-textile-sensor-gas-detection

 

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