Electroactive polymers are not really a new invention either. They have been used in solar cell technology as well as in sensor technology and microbiology for several years. The Swedish research team did not have to completely reinvent the wheel, but simply cleverly combined the technologies available to them. The potential for innovation is therefore increasingly evident in the combination of different developments. Although such textiles are not yet officially produced, scientists are making rapid progress.
Such intelligent textiles could therefore be realistic in the foreseeable future if they are based on the technology of electronic prostheses or that of exoskeletons. What is needed is a cellulose fabric that is coated with electroactive polymers and thus contains a conductive layer of polypyrrole. What type of fibers this cellulose is and how it was processed – for example, woven or knitted – is irrelevant. So it is classic textiles that have been in use for a long time.
Strictly speaking, the “artificial muscles” are textiles that can be deliberately shortened or stretched by an electrical impulse. They work similarly to a muscle and can make everyday life easier for people with restricted mobility. In their publication entitled ” Knitting and weaving artificial muscles ” in the “Science Advances”, the Swedish researcher Edwin Jager and his team presented their latest findings on this topic:
Clothing with artificial muscles that support people with disabilities in everyday life – just a few years ago this sounded like a utopian dream of the future. But now textile research has reached a new milestone and suddenly this goal no longer appears so far away. What innovation have the scientists developed and what could the future of clothing and textiles look like based on the current state of research?
“Smart” textiles are experiencing an upswing:
However, Edwin Jager’s research is not an isolated case in the textile industry. Instead, there have been breakthroughs in the field of “smart” textiles in recent years. As with artificial muscles, these are special types of fibers or tissues that can do more than just keep you warm or look good. The “clever substances” can, for example, collect and evaluate data, store energy or warn their wearer of illnesses. High-tech has entered the textile industry and there is no shortage of ideas:
Clothing that can measure the outside temperature should support firefighters in their work in the future and warn them of dangers.
Intelligent onesies are designed to protect babies from sudden infant death.
One day, innovative textiles might be able to clean themselves.
It remains to be seen how exactly the clothing of the future will look – because not all of these ideas can be implemented at the current state of the art.
Optimization through research: easier cleaning:
A task that science is still concerned with: making cleaning of typical materials such as leather, tex, linen or synthetics easier. Washing clothes or taking care of shoes still takes a relatively long time in our everyday lives. In addition, each material has to be treated differently .
Previous results were mainly based on improvements in the surface structure – for example by transferring the lotus effect to the materials. Moisture and dirt then roll off without penetrating deeper. This is also possible, among other things, through a subsequent coating.
Another approach that is currently being researched is light-active textiles. So far, certain coatings have been developed that kill microbes under the influence of UV radiation and even make stains disappear with the help of additional nanoparticles. Thus, washing could become obsolete in the future.
Water is (still) a problem for smart textiles:
In the case of those high-tech textiles in which electronics are to be built in one way or another, in many cases contact with water is still the greatest difficulty. Scientists recently succeeded in applying a special layer of graphene to clothing that protects against mosquito bites. When wet, however, it loses its effectiveness. A solution has not yet been found. This is just one example of many: after all, the baby romper, like the fire jacket or other innovative inventions, has to be washed every now and then. Even washing and spinning in the machine at high temperatures would be desirable.
To solve this problem, experiments are currently being carried out with embedding the electronics directly in the tissue. This increases the flexibility of the textiles and makes them “pliable”, that is, they can be twisted, spun, bent or bent in the washing machine without being damaged. So there is no shortage of problems at the current state of textile research, but neither is there any lack of solutions. A breakthrough should therefore also be expected in the foreseeable future.
High-tech and sustainability – a contradiction?:
The question remains how the technical innovations of the new composite materials – especially in the field of smart textiles – can be reconciled with the topic of environmental friendliness. Because, of course, they obviously need electricity to function and if batteries or rechargeable batteries are used, this could become a major environmental burden with an increasing number of wearables.
At the moment there is a real flood of innovations in the field of textiles and therefore also for the clothing of the future. Which ideas will ultimately prevail and which will not remain exciting.
Here too, however, a solution is already being worked on: textiles that are worn on the body could supply themselves with electricity through the so-called piezo effect – or even generate additional electricity for the smartphone, for example. In fact, many applications require very little energy to function. However, it remains open how well the materials can be recycled and broken down into their components after use.
In all areas of application, such as clothing, the innovative textiles are currently raising the question of environmental protection. There are also numerous new developments in this area. For example, there is a new environmentally friendly solution for sealing seams. It works without the harmful poly and perfluorinated compounds (PFC).
For such and similar equipment, harmless starting materials are treated with chemical substances that worsen the ecological footprint of the end product. There is great interest here in more environmentally friendly alternatives.
Other developments are specifically geared towards improving the recyclability of textiles or using recycled raw materials right from the start. Jörg Lederer GmbH developed an elastic yarn from disused fishing nets and uses it to produce tights. The manufacturer Trevira in turn relies on alternatives to petroleum-based raw materials for textile production. Fibers can also be obtained from renewable raw materials such as sugar cane or corn. The use of lactic acid polymers also increases the biodegradability of textile products.
For some time now, a well-known plant has been coming back: the nettle. For a long time, the nettle was considered coarse and was only of limited use in the clothing industry. Here, too, an improvement could be achieved through further technical development. The biggest advantage: Even when growing the plants, far less water is required than with the popular cotton.
Smart textiles cannot only be used in clothing:
Research is also expected to diversify further. While many scientists and inventors are currently dealing with textiles for clothing and accessories, some researchers have looked for another niche . Because other sectors, such as the construction industry or the automotive industry, are also interested in the new opportunities in the field of textiles.