Smart and comfortable new textiles for high-tech clothing

Preparation and morphology of PAN/PCL/AgNW nonwovens prepared by the wet-laid process. a Schematic of the procedure for the preparation of the PAN/PCL/AgNW nonwovens. (1–5) 1 Mixing of PAN nanofibres, PCL nanofibres and AgNW. 2 Filtration of the PAN/PCL/AgNW dispersion through the stainless steel sieve. 3 Drying of the PAN/PCL/AgNW nonwoven. 4 Lift-off of the PAN/PCL/AgNW nonwoven from the stainless steel sieve. 5 Thermal annealing of the PAN/PCL/AgNW nonwoven. SEM images of the polymeric and metallic fibres: b As-electrospun PAN fibres, c as-electrospun PCL fibres, d AgNW; SEM/BSE images of the composite nonwovens with increasing AgNW content: e 0.00 vol%, f 0.36 vol% and g 1.07 vol%. scale bar 5 µm (d 1 µm)

Uncomfortable, rigid, with low air permeability: textile materials capable of conducting electricity can be awkward for day-to-day use. However, researchers at the University of Bayreuth, Donghua University in Shanghai, and Nanjing Forestry University have now developed new nonwoven materials that are electrically conductive as well as flexible and breathable. This paves the way for comfortable high-tech clothes which, for example, convert sunlight to warmth, supply wearable electronic devices with electricity, or contain sensors for fitness training. The scientists have published their findings in the journal npj Flexible Electronics.

Prof. Dr. Andreas Greiner’s team of researchers at the University of Bayreuth and their Chinese partners have succeeded in producing electrically conductive nonwovens which have all the other characteristics you would expect from clothing that is suitable for daily use. The materials are flexible and thus adapt to movements and changes in posture. In addition, they are air-permeable, meaning they do not interfere with the natural breathing of the skin.

The combination of these properties is based on a special production process. In contrast to common methods of production, metal wires were not inserted into finished textiles. Rather, the scientists modified classical electro-spinning, which has been used to produce nonwovens for many years: short electro-spun polymer fibers and small amounts of tiny silver wires with a diameter of only 80 nanometres are mixed in a liquid. Afterwards, they are filtered, dried, and briefly heated up. If the composition is right, the resulting nonwoven material exhibits a very high degree of electrical conductivity.

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