Spools of thread and pipe cleaners sit in the craft lab at Etsy Inc. headquarters in the Brooklyn borough of New York, U.S., on Monday, May 4, 2015. Etsy Inc., a marketplace for handmade and vintage goods, raised $267 million in its initial public offering. Photographer: Victor J. Blue/Bloomberg
Photograph by Victor J. Blue — Bloomberg/Getty Images
By Hilary Brueck
December 18, 2015

Researchers in the lab have found a new way to charge electronics faster on-the-go: Thread.

They’ve developed a flexible, wire-based charging thread that can be sewn into clothing. The new tech could make shirts and jackets of the future double-duty as powering devices.

Similar techniques have been tried before, but in the latest research published this week in Energy Storage Materials, the researchers tapped into a more powerful source: Titanium wire, making their charging ‘yarn’ three times as powerful as the other carbon-based threads.

To test out the new sewable material, macromolecular scientist Liming Dai and his team at Case Western Reserve University started with a base of bendy titanium wire, and grew both titanium and carbon charging fibers on top, which they twisted together. They found the new thread was not only more powerful than carbon models, it was also more adjustable—they could change the wire structure to push out more or less charge, making different kinds of chargers for different voltage needs. And the longer the thread, the more charge the fabric can store.

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In the lab, the flexible, bendable model can hold just enough charge for an LED lightbulb. (Though the capacitors are very fast to charge, they’re not quite as good at storing power as a regular battery.) In time, the researchers hope to blend together more of their capacitors, to create a more advanced system that could power personal electronics and biosensors.

The other design challenge will be the capacitor lifetime: They’ve only tested out their devices for a few months, but of course, clothing needs to last through years—and potentially hundreds of washes (the thread’s not waterproofed yet). While the tech is probably at least a few years off, it’s one more next-gen fashion possibility in a growing field of imaginative solar dresses and pants that carry extra battery packs.

Of course that pair of charging, fiber-sewn pants of the future will need to spend some quality time plugged into the wall, before they can step out with a charge.

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