The question of how to power tech-enabled fabrics is one of the larger problems facing smart garment makers. Science Daily is reporting on researchers who have made yarns from niobium nanowires to create super-capacitors that may do some of the job.
There has been a fair amount of work on using graphene as super-capacitors, but this research suggests that niobium, which is a common element, may be a better choice. Lead researcher, Prof. Ian W. Hunter, of MIT, told Science Daily that super-capacitors can be used in bursty applications, such as powering a radio, supplementing a smaller battery that could handle lower-power and more constant functions such as data gathering. Doctoral student and co-author Seyed M. Mirvakili says niobium is much more conductive than graphene or carbon nanotubes, is highly flexible, and has a melting point of 2,500 degrees Celsius — all characteristics that point toward use in smart textiles.
Note that the fabric has only been made in a lab environment. The next step, researchers say, is to figure out how to build the yarns in volume.
The research, High-Performance Supercapacitors from Niobium Nanowire Yarns, appears in the journal ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces.