China Weaves the Future: Fiber Battery Fabric Ushers in Era of Smart Clothes

Fudan University researchers in China develop groundbreaking fiber lithium-ion battery technology. The battery fabric seamlessly integrates into clothing, offering self-charging wearables, remarkable durability, and potential for applications like bionic limbs.
May 8, 2024
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On a bustling city street, a jogger’s sweat-wicking athletic top collects energy from embedded photovoltaic threads, charging the smart fabric as they run. Subtle ventilation zones activate, controlled by fabric sensors detecting rising body temperature. Their wireless earbuds never need removing to recharge – miniature conductive coils woven into the shirt collar keep them perpetually topped up. After the workout, the self-deodorizing shirt fibers activate with a quick voice command. On the commute home, powerful heating elements lining the jacket’s interior fend off the evening chill. As the smart garments are shed for bed, they automatically start recharging on a fabric charging mat, ready to seamlessly power another day.

Thanks to a groundbreaking development, these technologies will no longer be kept in the realm of science fiction. Researchers at Fudan University in Shanghai have unveiled a remarkable fiber lithium-ion battery that could pave the way for a new era of wearable electronics. Led by Professor Huisheng Peng, the team has solved critical challenges in creating flexible, high-energy, and safe fiber batteries, bringing us one step closer to seamlessly integrating power sources into clothing and textiles. Their results are published in the journal Nature recently.

The key innovation lies in the battery’s unique fiber electrode design with a porous structure, allowing it to effectively combine with a polymer gel electrolyte. This solves the long-standing issue of poor interface stability between electrodes and gel electrolytes, which previously resulted in low energy storage capacity.

“We were inspired by how Rhaphidophora vines adhere to surfaces using a secreted liquid that polymerizes into a stable bond,” explained Peng. “By mimicking this mechanism with our fiber electrodes and monomer solution, we achieved a tight, stable interface between the electrode and gel electrolyte.”

The result is a fiber battery that can be continuously manufactured at scale, with the team already operating a pilot production line capable of producing 300 watts per hour. The fibers, with a diameter of just 500 micrometers, can be woven into battery fabrics virtually indistinguishable from ordinary cloth.

“A 50cm x 30cm piece of our battery fabric has a capacity equivalent to a typical smartphone battery,” said Haibo Jiang, a doctoral student on the project. “And with a material cost of around 0.5 yuan per meter, mass production could make this technology incredibly affordable.”

But the true breakthrough lies in the battery’s remarkable safety and durability. Extensive testing has shown that the battery fabric can withstand 100 washes, 10,000 friction cycles, high and low temperatures, vacuum environments, and even physical damage – all while continuing to power devices safely and reliably.

“In simulations of high-temperature fire scenarios, our battery fabric didn’t catch fire or explode even when cut or abraded, and it could still power essential equipment like walkie-talkies and sensors,” Peng added.

With such robust performance, the applications for this fiber battery technology are vast, from empowering emergency responders and scientific expeditions to enabling futuristic innovations like bionic limbs, soft robotics, and immersive virtual reality.

“The potential application space is immense, but it will take collaboration across academia and industry to fully explore and realize it,” Jiang stated. “If all goes well, we could see commercial products hitting the market within a year.”

As the world increasingly demands portable, wearable, and seamlessly integrated electronics, this fiber battery breakthrough from Fudan University could be the spark that ignites a technological revolution – one where our clothing and accessories become intelligent, powered extensions of ourselves.

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Editor-in-Chief, The China Academy
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