Wearable electronics gets a new power dimension by the latest supercapacitors

In order to advance the emerging wearable technology, improved power sources are required. Researchers from Michigan State University have provided a potential solution for this.

A team of scientists lead by Changyong Cao, director of MSU’s Soft Machines and Electronics Laboratory, has developed highly stretchable supercapacitors for powering wearable electronics. The latest supercapacitor has demonstrated solid performance and stability, even when it is stretched to 800% of its original size for thousands of stretching/relaxing cycles.

“The key to success is the innovative approach of crumpling vertically aligned CNT arrays, or CNT forests,” said Cao, MSU School of Packaging assistant professor. “Instead of having a flat thin film strictly constrained during fabrication, our design enables the three-dimensionally interconnected CNT forest to maintain good electrical conductivity, making it much more efficient, reliable and robust.”

Today’s wearable tech is not limited only till the wearable watches, but its’ way too beyond than that. Imagine the patches of smart skin for burn victims that can monitor healing while powering themselves, that’s the future, which could be created by the Cao’s innovation.

In the medical field, stretchable/wearable electronics are being developed that are capable of extreme contortions and can conform to complicated, uneven surfaces. In the future, these innovations could be integrated into biological tissues and organs to detect disease, monitor improvement and even communicate with medical practitioners.

“It’s more robust; it’s truly a design breakthrough,” said Cao, who’s also an assistant professor in mechanical engineering and electrical and computer engineering. “Even when it’s stretched up to 300% along each direction, it still conducts efficiently. Other designs lose efficiency, can usually be stretched in only one direction or malfunction completely when they are stretched at much lower levels.”

In terms of its ability to collect and store energy, Cao’s crumpled nano-forests outperformed most other CNT-based supercapacitors that are known to exist. Even though the top-performing technology can endure thousands of stretching/relaxing cycles, there’s still room for improvement.

Metal oxide nanoparticles can be easily impregnated into the crumpled CNTs so that the invention’s efficiency improves much more. The newly invented approach should spark the advancement of self-powered stretchable electronic systems, Cao added.

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