"We will soon see roll-up cell phones and laptop computers on the market," says Professor Xiaodong Li of the University of South Carolina. Li in a published report in the journal Advanced Materials shows that the "once-cotton T-shirt" can be used as a repository for electricity.
Li used small cotton swatches to show that the fabric acts as a capacitor. Capacitors have the ability to store electrical charge. The "activated carbon textile," the name Li calls his work in the study, acts more like double-layer capacitors -- which are also called a supercapacitors because they can have particularly high energy storage densities according to Li. "These developments would spur on the need for "flexible energy storage," says Li.
Xiaodong Li teamed up with post-doctorate researcher Lihong Bao to conduct the research on whether cotton could act as a capacitor. Li and his associated used a T-shirt bought from a local discount store. They then soaked cotton swaths in a fluoride solution. Next they dried and baked the cotton at a high temperature in an oxygen-free environment.
The fibres in the cotton converted from cellulose to activated carbon and the material remained flexible. The professor went even further and coatied the individual fibres of the newly carbonized cottonc with manganese oxide. The result was a further increase in the storage capacity to a performance level similar to that of a supercapacitator.
"By stacking these supercapacitors up, we should be able to charge portable electronic devices such as cell phones," Li concluded. If you haven't already built up your collection of cotton t-shirts now may be the time.