Ionically conductive fibers open a new path for smart and functional textiles

Experiment with ionofibers. Credit: Claude Huniade

Electron-conducting fibers are already used in smart textiles, but in a recently published research paper, ion-conducting fibers were found to be of growing interest. The so-called ionofibers achieve greater flexibility, durability and correspond to the type of conduction that our body uses. In the future, they could be used for items such as textile batteries, textile displays and textile muscles.

The research project, which appears in Advanced materials technologiesis carried out by doctoral student Claude Huniade at the University of Borås, Sweden, and is part of a larger project, Weafing, whose objective is to develop new unprecedented clothing for haptic stimulation comprising textile actuators and sensors.

In Claude Huniade’s project, the goal is to produce conductive wires without conductive metals.

“My research focuses on the production of electrically conductive textile fibers, and ultimately yarns, by durably coating non-metals onto commercial yarns. The biggest challenge lies in the balance between maintaining the textile properties and adding the conductive function,” explains Claude Huniade.

Currently, the uniqueness of his research lies in the strategies employed during coating. These strategies extend to the processes and materials used.

Ionic liquid

One of the avenues investigated by Huniade is a new type of material used as a textile coating – ionic liquids in combination with commercial textile fibers. Like salt water, they conduct electricity, but without water. Ionic liquid is a more stable electrolyte than salt water because nothing evaporates.

“The processability is an important requirement because textile manufacturing can be tough on textile fibers, especially when scaling up their use. Fibers can also be processed into woven or knit without mechanically damaging them. while retaining their conductivity. Surprisingly, they were even smoother to process into fabrics than the commercial yarns they are made from,” says Huniade.

Ionofibers could be used as sensors since ionic liquids are sensitive to their environment. For example, the change in humidity can be detected by the ionofibers, but they can also detect any stretching or pressure they are subjected to.

“Ionofibers could really shine when combined with other materials or devices that require electrolytes. Ionofibers allow certain phenomena currently limited in liquids to be achievable in air in a lightweight way. The applications are manifold and unique, for example for textile batteries. , textile displays or textile muscles,” says Huniade.

Further research is needed to combine ionofibers with other functional fibers to produce unique textile devices.

And how do ionofibers differ from common electronic conducting fibers? “Compared to electronically conductive fibers, ionofibers are different in the way they conduct electricity. They are less conductive, but they provide other properties that electronically conductive fibers often lack. Ionofibers achieve greater flexibility, durability and correspond to the type of conduction that our body uses. In fact, they correspond better than electronic conductive fibers to the way electricity is present in nature,” concludes Huniade.

Scientists are developing an all-woven smart display

More information:
Claude Huniade et al, Ionofibres: Ionically Conductive Textile Fibers for Conformal i‐Textiles, Advanced materials technologies (2022). DOI: 10.1002/admt.202101692

Provided by University of Borås

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