Wearable E-Textiles Using a Textile-Centric Design Approach

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Accounts of Chemical Research





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ConspectusElectronics worn on the body have the potential to improve human health and the quality of life by monitoring vital signs and movements, displaying information, providing self-illumination for safety, and even providing new routes for personal expression through fashion. Textiles are a part of daily life in clothing, making them an ideal platform for wearable electronics. The acceptance of wearable e-textiles hinges on maintaining the properties of textiles that make them compatible with the human body. Beneficial properties such as softness, stretchability, drapability, and breathability come from the 3D fibrous structures of knitted and woven textiles. However, these structures also present considerable challenges for the fabrication of wearable e-textiles. Fabrication methods used for modern electronic devices are designed for 2D planar substrates and are mostly unsuitable for the complex 3D structures of textiles. There is thus an urgent need to develop fabrication methods specifically for e-textiles to advance wearable electronics. Solution-based fabrication methods are a promising approach to fabricating wearable e-textiles, especially considering that textiles have been successfully modified using pigmented dyes in dyebaths and printing inks for thousands of years. In this Account, we discuss our research on the solution-based electroless metallization of textiles to fabricate conductive e-textiles that are building blocks for e-textile devices. Electroless metallization solutions fully permeate textile structures to deposit metallic coatings on the surfaces of individual textile fibers, maintaining the inherent textile structures and wearability. The resulting e-textiles are highly conductive, soft, and stretchable. We furthermore discuss ways to turn the challenges related to textile structures into new opportunities by strategically using the structural features of textiles for e-textile device design. We demonstrate this textile-centric approach to designing e-textile devices using two examples. We discuss how the structure of an ultrasheer knitted textile forms a useful framework for new e-textile transparent conductive electrodes and describe the implementation of these electrodes to form highly stretchable light-emitting e-textiles. We also show how the structural features of velour fabrics form the basis for an innovative "island-bridge"strain-engineering structure that enables the integration of brittle electroactive materials and protects them from strain-induced damage, leading to the fabrication of stretchable textile-based lithium-ion battery electrodes. With the vast variety of textile structures available, we highlight the opportunities associated with this textile-centric design approach to advance textile-based wearable electronics. Such advances depend on a deep understanding of the relationship between the textile structure and the device requirements, which may potentially lead to the development of new textile structures customized to support specific devices. We conclude with a discussion of the challenges that remain for the future of e-textiles, including durability, sustainability, and the development of performance standards.







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