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How Will Graphene Change the Textile Industry?

Have you heard about electronic clothing yet? 

Chances are you have. Then again, since e-clothing has been heretofore impractical to make, you may not have taken any notice.

Either way, the textile industry is gearing up for what may be a revolution in clothing. According to IdTechEX, a market research firm, the market for electronic clothes, or e-textiles, could reach $5 billion USD by 2027. 

However, there is a roadblock on the way to achieving this goal. Apparently, safely storing and passing an electric current through a shirt is difficult to actually pull off. Thankfully, now we have graphene: the miracle material of choice for Industry 4.0. 
Image credit: Edgylabs

Just imagine any device you carry on your person and think about integrating it into your sleeve. That barely scratches the possibilities of this technology, but it’s a good place to start.

Recently, scientists at the University of Manchester have begun to chip away at the central problem of electronic clothing with a new graphene layering technique. The project has compelling results, and it could help fuel the fire for the rise of e-textiles.

With all of the miniaturization going on in the tech world, it is becoming more and more possible to put devices, well, anywhere. 

Just imagine any device you carry on your person and think about integrating it into your sleeve. That barely scratches the possibilities of this technology, but it’s a good place to start. 

Speaking of good places to start, let’s dig into the good work done by the folks at the University of Manchester.

From Textiles to e-Textiles 

As I said before, making e-textiles is a difficult endeavor. Firstly, you need a material that can incorporate the electronics into the fabric whilst also bearing in mind that it will be worn, soiled, and washed multiple times throughout its life. 

So far, the best idea involves coating textiles with graphene, but that can take a lot of steps and a long time. Until recently there hasn’t been a very good way to scale up that process. 

Now, however, the researchers from U of M, led by Professor Kostya S. Novoselov have developed a new approach that basically flips the old method in reverse.

With the old method, graphene coating was applied in the first step. In the new method, it is the final step. Coating the textiles first enabled the team to use a technique called padding, which greatly increased the efficacy of the material.

Padding is the most common method for applying a functional finish to textiles within the industry. So, it’s a safe bet that you have some clothes that were manufactured with this method. 

A typical industrial dry-pad unit can produce approximately 150 meters of fabric in a minute. So if you can produce e-textiles via padding, you can make it light-years faster than traditional methods. 

With that kind of scalability, It wouldn’t be surprising to see a lot more progressive work in the world of e-textiles. We may even see some things reach the commercial market sooner than previously thought. 

With that in mind, let’s talk about a few possibilities for e-textiles.

The Possibilities of Electronic Clothing 

With something that has virtually limitless applications, it’s easy to realize why people are getting so excited about it. 

The things that are most often talked about when people discuss electronic clothing are bio-monitors and heaters. Now, don’t get me wrong, both of those things are amazing, but that’s thinking small. 

Not that thinking small is such a bad thing. The e-textile industry is rising amidst a conflux of many different discoveries. While some scientists are busy studying graphene coating for textiles, others are researching how to make nanotransistors.

When it comes to bio-monitors and heated clothes, I’ll gladly take them. However, when I hear about transistors that can number in the millions on the head of a pin, I start wondering why any device couldn’t interface with my clothes. 

For example, if I wanted to put my phone in my pocket and access it via my sleeve while busy or in a hurry, that could be entirely possible in the near future. How would you like your favorite jacket to have built-in Bluetooth speakers? 

Honestly, I could sit here all day and think of functions that e-textiles could have, which I find terribly exciting. It’s like redesigning the wheel, only it’s a shirt.
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