Conductive, cotton-based fibre developed for smart textiles | Manufacturing Tech News USA

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A single strand of fibre developed at Washington State University (WSU) has the flexibility of cotton and the electric conductivity of a polymer, called polyaniline.

The recently created material had promising applications in wearable electronic fabrics. The WSU researchers tested the fibres using two different systems: one that sensed ammonia gas and another that powered an LED light. They published their results in the journal Carbohydrate Polymers.

“We have one fibre in two sections: one section is the conventional cotton: flexible and strong enough for everyday use, and the other side is the conductive material,” said Hang Liu, WSU textile researcher and the study’s corresponding author. “The cotton can support the conductive material, which can provide the needed function.”

While more development is needed, the idea is to integrate fibres like these into apparel as sensor patches with flexible circuits. These patches could be part of uniforms for firefighters, soldiers, or workers who handle chemicals to detect for hazardous exposures. Other applications include health monitoring or exercise shirts that can do more than current fitness monitors.

The WSU team attempted to solve the problems associated with combining the conductive polymer with cotton cellulose in this study. Materials having very big molecules and repeating patterns are called polymers. In this instance, the researchers employed polyaniline, or PANI, a synthetic polymer with conductive qualities that is currently in use in the production of printed circuit boards.

Although polyaniline is inherently conductive, it is brittle and cannot be processed into a textile fibre on its own. The WSU researchers used two different solutions to overcome this problem: one for the conductive polymer and another for the cotton cellulose from recycled t-shirts. After mixing these two solutions side by side, the mixture was extruded into a single fibre.

The result showed good interfacial bonding, meaning the molecules from the different materials would stay together through stretching and bending.

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Conductive, cotton-based fibre developed for smart textiles | Manufacturing Tech News USA

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