Sunday, 27 May 2012

Charge your phone with your cotton T-shirt!

The activated carbon textile. Image credit:
Engineers have successfully transformed cotton into a flexible, highly conductive component, which means it could charge devices.

Xiaodong Li, a mechanical engineering professor at the University of South Carolina alongwith postdoc Lihong Bao have attained this feat.

PROCEDURE: They dipped the cotton in a sodium fluoride solution for an hour, took the wet material and dried it in a preheated oven for three hours. Then they heated it in a hotter furnace for an hour. By the time it was done, the cotton had changed into activated carbon. Despite being baked, the charred-looking material could still be folded. From there, the engineers coated it with a nano-layer of the conductive metal manganese oxide for the last stage of building their energy storage device.

Li said that the engineers had to make the cotton highly reactive, so they tried many "recipes", just like trying to cook a meal without knowing the recipe.

Lead researcher Xiaodong Li said his team knew that future body armor would need a flexible power source. And because the scientists work in South Carolina, which used to have a big cotton industry, they thought, 'Why not use a cotton T-shirt as the energy device?'

-- Li on his A-Ha! Moment

Their device's performance is on par with other carbon-based super capacitors, according to their testing.
 "This is a very simple, low-cost process, and it's green," Li said.
He and his research group estimate that using cotton directly from textile mills could be as much as 10 times cheaper than chemically processing coal or petroleum into activated carbon. 
"Down the road, we will see such cotton-enabled energy devices in the market. We won't need to rely on oil any more.", says Li.
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