University of South Carolina researchers convert T-shirt into energy storage medium


July 4, 2012

The researchers used a standard T-shirt purchased from a local discount store for their work

The researchers used a standard T-shirt purchased from a local discount store for their work

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As manufacturers of smartphones and mobile devices strive to make their products increasingly portable, they repeatedly come up against the constraints of existing battery technology. However, Xiaodong Li, a professor at the University of South Carolina (USC) believes that we will soon be able to employ the clothes we wear to help overcome such challenges and to this end, Li has transformed T-shirt material into an energy storage medium which could one day be used to power portable devices.

Beginning with a standard T-shirt purchased from a local discount store, Li’s team soaked the garment in a solution of fluoride, then dried and baked the fabric at high temperature in an oven, which is designed to exclude oxygen in order to prevent the fabric from igniting. Following this process, the surfaces of the fibers of the T-shirt material were shown by infrared spectroscopy to have been converted from cellulose to activated carbon, while still retaining all their previous flexibility.

By making use of small swatches of the treated T-shirt fabric as electrodes, Li and his fellow researchers were able to prove that the flexible material, dubbed “activated carbon textile,” acts as a capacitor, a critical component of virtually every electronic device in use today. Further to this, Li reports that the new activated carbon textile material is actually capable of acting as a double-layer capacitor, (commonly called a supercapacitor) due to its high energy density. Supercapacitors have previously been utilized in the areas of aerospace and motorsport - for example, in Toyota's hybrid Le Mans challenger.

Finally, the team coated the individual fibers of the activated carbon textile with a layer of manganese oxide just a nanometer thick, increasing the electrode performance of the fabric yet further still. The newly manganese oxide-treated activated carbon textile fabric was able to maintain up to 95 percent of its energy storage performance even after thousands of charge-discharge cycles, convincing the USC researchers that the material could one day be implemented to charge low-power portable devices such as cell phones.

It's important to note that material which can store energy is by no means new but Li was keen to point out that the process pioneered at USC is both cost-effective and environmentally-friendly. "Previous methods used oil or environmentally unfriendly chemicals as starting materials," said Li. "Those processes are complicated and produce harmful side products. Our method is a very inexpensive, green process."

Source: University of South Carolina

About the Author
Adam Williams Adam scours the globe from his home in North Wales in order to bring the best of innovative architecture and sustainable design to the pages of Gizmag. Most of his spare time is spent dabbling in music, tinkering with old Macintosh computers and trying to keep his even older VW bus on the road. All articles by Adam Williams

Rip your T-shirt and and get a third degree burn or a smoking bleeding crater and possibly a stopped heart. Cool way to make super-capacitors but wrap them in a tough container.


yeah sure

let's see energy density, cost per joule, and the need for energy to be in a tshirt in the first place

big deal



Actually what they need now is a way to protect ppl from their own t-shirts. I would say sit down with some fashion designers and come up with something. For one I would probably use a polka dot pattern or swathes of fabric with a different design that holds the charge in stronger/tear resistant material. One thing I don't understand: how would you get the charge into the shirt and out into devices?

Derri Faulk
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