The textile sector has been developing since the Industrial Revolution with immense speed. Following the introduction of synthetic and afterwards even smart and technical materials, a combination of art and science, I started wondering how much further the properties of materials for clothing can develop.
What I found out is: a lot. Although what I am going to tell you about is still work in progress, the chances are we are going to witness a complete revolution in the production of not only clothing, but also electronics, biodevices, sensors, optics, and even in energy storage. What it is most likely to be is a new era of materials – smarter, lighter, stronger, transparent.
The reason is called graphene – the first ever 2D material, produced in 2004 in Manchester by Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov. What makes the material so special are its qualities, which are so unique, it is almost impossible to believe.
Graphene is stronger than steel, tougher than diamond, super light, better electrical conductor than copper, it is transparent and can take all shapes. What is more, it is not only the strongest, but also the thinnest ever material, with only one atom height. All of that makes it suitable for various applications. Its hardness, combined with its flexibility, for example, makes it perfect for the production of bulletproof vests and sports equipment.
This incredible material seems to have found its application in textile industry. Being the most so far known stretchable crystal, waterproof, heat insolating, transmitting light, conducting electricity, it is now being developed as a new generation e-textile that could enable computing, digital components and electronics to be embedded in the fabrics. Electroconductive textiles can be made using graphene textile fibres woven into the construction of the textile or, by applying a theory that has just recently been developed by Dr Felice Torrisi. He has invented a method of making conductive cotton textiles by saturating them with a graphene-based conductive ink. Using coloured dyes and heat improves conductivity even after washing the fabric. Moreover, unlike other conductive inks, containing expensive materials, such as silver, using graphene makes the production of e-textiles way cheaper.
Another sector which could widely benefit from this miraculous material is personal protective equipment. As graphene is known to be abrasion resistant, about 200 times stronger than steel, maintain body heat, extremely lightweight and waterproof, it is perfect to be used in any kind of protective clothing, even in combination with neoprene. What is more, its application does not require a multi-stage process, but only a single-stage one, which makes a garment easier to produce and both thinner and lighter, and so increases the wearer’s mobility. Furthermore, graphene could not only ease the performance, but also monitor it, if it is used as an electronic temperature sensor, as a result of its quality as a thermal conductor. A combination with graphene could also make fabrics antibacterial, antistatic, insect and stain repellent, elastic, odourless, stronger, and many more.
Replacing expensive materials, working effectively with a wide range of fabrics and metals, possessing such unique and useful qualities, I can’t help but wonder, is graphene the plastic of the 21st century?
With so many scientist and artists crazy about graphene, I believe I will soon be able to find out, but until then I should not forget that what we already know about this incredible material is only a tiny part of what it actually is, and I am convinced that the best for the era of graphene is yet to come.
Image sources: actualidadwatch.com; extremetech.com; graphene-supermarket.com; marcaespana.es; static.vix.com
Web sources: advancedtextilessource.com; gfc-conference.eu; graphene.conferenceseries.com; www.cam.ac.uk; www.explainthatstuff.com; www.nanowerk.com; www.graphenea.com