Current clothing trends: A wearable and flexible fiber supercapacitor with a fully encapsulated electrolyte is formed by entangling plastic wire covered with ZnO NWs (see SEM image) around a Kevlar fiber covered with gold-coated ZnO NWs. This supercapacitor shows promise as a highly efficient, wearable energy storage device.
Flexible batteries can also be put into voids in car and other vehicle panels and enable more flexible designs for electric vehicles. The vehicle structure can be used for energy storage.
The research team has now developed a prototype for a high-efficiency fiber-based electrochemical micro-supercapacitor that uses zinc oxide nanowires as electrodes. The substrate for one of the electrode is a flexible, fine plastic wire; for the other electrode it is a fiber made of Kevlar. Kevlar is the material used to make bulletproof vests. The researchers were able to grow zinc oxide nanowires on each of these substrates. Additional coatings with materials like gold and manganese oxide could further improve the charge capacitance. Using tweezers, the researchers then wrapped each of the plastic wires with a Kevlar fiber. This assembly was then embedded in a solid gel electrolyte that separates the two electrodes and allows for the necessary charge transport. A bundle of these fibers could be processed to form a thread.
Zinc oxide has special advantages over conventional supercapacitor materials,: it can be grown on any desired substrate in any form at low temperature (below 100 °C) and it is both biocompatible and environmentally friendly.
Flexible batteries could be combined with with flexible fiber piezoelctric nanogenerators, which Wang and his team have previously developed. The wearer’s heartbeat and steps, or even a light wind, would be enough to move the piezoelectric zinc oxide nanowires in the fibers, generating electrical current.
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