Innovative Conductive Cotton Fiber: A Revolution in Fashion and Technology

by Mateo Gonzalez
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Conductive Cotton Fiber

Innovative Conductive Cotton Fiber: A Revolution in Fashion and Technology

In a groundbreaking development, scientists have created a unique fiber that merges the pliability of cotton with the electrical conductivity of polyaniline, a type of polymer. This breakthrough, presented in the journal “Carbohydrate Polymers,” holds promise for the future of wearable electronic textiles, with potential uses in health monitoring and detecting exposure to hazardous substances. The concept is credited to

Washington State University has been at the forefront of this innovation, producing a fiber that combines the softness and adaptability of cotton with the electrical properties of polyaniline.

The material, recently formulated at Washington State University, shows great promise for use in electronic textiles (e-textiles). The research team demonstrated its functionality by powering an LED and detecting ammonia gas. These findings are extensively reported in “Carbohydrate Polymers.”

A microscopic examination of the novel fibers reveals a distinctive composition, where one part is conventional cotton and the other is infused with the electrically conductive polyaniline polymer. This image is courtesy of Washington State University.

Hang Liu, a textile researcher at WSU and the leading author of the study, explains the dual nature of the fiber: one part being traditional, resilient cotton suitable for everyday wear, and the other being the conductive segment that offers the required electronic functionality.

Expanding Horizons in Wearable Tech

The potential applications of such fibers in wearable technology are vast. While further development is needed, the goal is to incorporate these fibers into clothing as sensor patches or flexible circuits. These could be integral to uniforms for firefighters, military personnel, or chemical workers, enabling detection of hazardous substances. Other uses might include health monitoring or advanced fitness apparel, going beyond the capabilities of current fitness trackers.

Liu envisions a future where everyday clothing, not just smartwatches, can track movement and vital signs. He emphasizes that fashion encompasses more than just aesthetics; it’s also about science.

Overcoming Technical Challenges

The WSU team faced significant challenges in blending the conductive polymer, polyaniline (PANI), with cotton cellulose. PANI is a large-molecule polymer known for its conductivity and is used in applications like circuit board manufacturing.

PANI is inherently brittle and unsuitable for textile fibers on its own. The WSU researchers’ solution involved dissolving cotton cellulose from recycled t-shirts and PANI in separate solutions, then combining them to form a singular fiber.

The resulting fiber exhibited strong interfacial bonding, maintaining cohesion through various physical stresses.

The process involved a delicate balance in mixing the cotton cellulose and PANI to ensure adequate bonding without compromising conductivity, as explained by Liu.

Collaborative Effort and Study Details

This research was a collaborative effort, involving Wangcheng Liu, Zihui Zhao, Dan Liang, Wei-Hong Zhong, and Jinwen Zhang from WSU. The study, titled “A novel structural design of cellulose-based conductive composite fibers for wearable e-textiles,” was published on 18 August 2023 in Carbohydrate Polymers, and is accessible via DOI: 10.1016/j.carbpol.2023.121308. The project received funding from the National Science Foundation and the Walmart Foundation Project.

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