Next Generation Batteries: Rechargeable Clothing

MIT Research Unveils New Lithium-Ion Battery

Written by Brian Hicks
Posted August 30, 2010

We have long accepted the image of the 21st century that includes iPhones and robots and flat screen televisions and electric vehicles...

Now, a research group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is creating the latest in new-wave technology: rechargeable fabric batteries.

That’s right. Rechargeable batteries are no longer reserved for your cell phone and laptop...

A specific kind of lithium-ion battery technology developed by a team of Boston-based researchers is malleable, can be shaped or woven into fabric, and then used to power portable electronics.

Essentially, these new batteries have the ability to turn what you wear into a rechargeable battery pack...

rechargeable batteries

Last week, a research team from MIT unveiled the results and its report on the status of a lithium-ion battery development at the American Chemical Society's National Meeting.

The team explained their use of a common and non-harmful virus called M13 bacteriophage for their battery technology that is replacing otherwise harmful chemicals so often used in the manufacture of batteries.

(The technology is further work from MIT scientist Angela Belcher and her team; last year, the same team engineered a virus as a biotemplate for preparing lithium ion battery anodes and cathodes — the same virus utilized in the development of the "wearable" batteries the team is working to develop now.)

"Using M13 bacteriophage as a template is an example of green chemistry, an environmentally friendly method of producing the battery... It enables the processing of all materials at room temperature and in water," explained Mark Allen, a Ph.D. and member of the MIT research team.

The batteries the team hopes to create in using M13 bateriophage technology will be lightweight and safer to use than other lithium-ion batteries, which produce more heat and are therefore more flammable.

The U.S. military is paying particular attention to the progress of the MIT team's battery project — and for good reason.

If the military has the option to manufacture clothing and equipment with batteries that can be woven into the fabric, uniforms have the potential to be more efficient, and equipment easier for soldiers to manage, improving overall performance and quality of work for soldiers.

And since the batteries can also be poured or sprayed into containers of any size or shape, they would allow shells or other parts of devices to double as a power source.

According to Allen, "Typical soldiers have to carry several pounds of batteries. But if you could turn their clothing into a battery pack, they could drop a lot of weight.”

If clothing acts essentially as a rechargeable battery pack, there’s a lot of potential for more comfortable and efficient travel and lifestyle — and not just for American soldiers.

This technology could appeal to anyone who’s traveled for work with a heavy laptop or camera… Or gone hiking or camping without convenient electrical outlets to recharge battery-operated gear… Or been stranded on a highway with a flat tire and a dead mobile phone or GPS…

The possibilities for this kind of lithium-battery technology are endless.

I look forward to hearing more about the team at MIT’s continuing developments with this project.

Brigid