Researchers in Singapore have created a customizable, fabric-like power source that can be cut, folded or stretched without losing its capability to hold power, opening up new potential applications for wearable electronics.

The “editable” supercapacitor developed at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore (NTU Singapore) is made of strengthened manganese dioxide nanowire composite, can be recharged and have its shape altered after its initial manufacture.

Manganese dioxide is a commonly-used material for supercapacitors. This research created a long nanowire structure from manganese dioxide and strengthened it with a network of carbon nanotubes and nanocellulose fibres. The structure allows the electrodes to withstand the strains that occur when its shape is altered.

Existing stretchable supercapacitors are made into predetermined designs and structures, but the new fabric can be stretched multi-directionally, making it more suitable for use in clothing.

Professor Chen Xiaodong, associate chair at the School of Materials Science and Engineering at NTU Singapore, said: “A reliable and editable supercapacitor is important for development of wearable electronics. It opens up all sorts of possibilities in the realm of the Internet-of-Things, when wearable electronics can reliably power themselves and connect and communicate with appliances in the home and other environments.

“My own dream is to one day combine our flexible supercapacitors with wearable sensors for health and sports performance diagnostics. With the ability for wearable electronics to power themselves, you could imagine the day when we create a device that could be used to monitor a marathon runner during a race with great sensitivity, detecting signals from both under and over-exertion.”

When changed into a honeycomb-like structure, the editable supercapacitor can store an electrical charge four times higher than most existing stretchable supercapacitors. Additionally, when stretched to four times its original length, it maintains nearly 98% of the initial ability to store electrical energy, even after 10,000 stretch-and-release cycles.

The researchers believe that the editable supercapacitor can be mass-produced using manufacturing technologies at a cost of around USD$0.10 per 1 cm2.

The research team has filed a patent for the technology.

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