Engineers at the University of South Carolina have successfully figured out how a mobile device can be charged by a simple cotton t-shirt. According to Discovery News, researchers at the university have managed to turn a cotton t-shirt into a flexible and highly conducive component. The project was led by Xiaodong Li, a mechanical engineering professor at the University of South Carolina, along with postdoc Lihong Bao. Their project has been published in the journal, Advanced Materials. Li had previously converted a cotton t-shirt into lightweight body armour. He did this by converting the cotton fibers of the t-shirt into boron carbide nanowires. Li said about the project, “In the future, you can imagine our cell phones will be just like a piece of paper you can roll up. But we need to have a flexible energy device to integrate with flexible, stretchable motherboards.“
T-shirts. Cell phone chargers. Same thing? (Image courtesy: designs2go.net)
The engineers started with a simple cotton t-shirt, which they purchased for $5 (approx Rs.275). They soaked this t-shirt in a sodium flouride solution for an hour. They then took the wet t-shirt and placed it in a pre-heated oven for three hours. After that, they heated the t-shirt further in a hotter furnace, as though they wanted to bake conductivity in. After all these steps, the cotton had effectively changed to carbon. Even though the t-shirt had been through the furnace and heat, the researchers were still able to fold it. The engineers then coated the t-shirt with a nano layer of metal manganese oxide. The device is then called a super capacitor and responds quicker than a battery to power needs.
Their testing states that the device is on par with other carbon-based, super-capacitors. After 1000 cycles, it had 97.3 percent retention. Li said the process is simple, low-cost and it's green. Even though the project already started with a renewable material, purchasing cotton directly from textile companies could be about 10 times cheaper than converting petroleum and coal to carbon. Li said that he's looking for business partners to scale up the project as well as appeal to local governments to use the process to revive local textile mills. The main idea behind the project, according to Li, is to reduce dependency on oil. And of course, in the end, you might be able to charge your cell phone with your t-shirt!