The development of thin, light-emitting fibres that can be woven into textiles and could be used in so-called smart fabrics is described in research published online this week in Nature Photonics.
Polymer light-emitting electrochemical cells (PLECs) are similar to organic light-emitting diodes (OLEDs), which have applications in technologies such as flexible flat panel displays and lighting. However, PLECs have certain advantages over OLEDs, including low operating power and highly efficient electron to photon conversion, which make them more suitable for use in portable and wearable electronics.
Huisheng Peng and colleagues found that a fibre-shaped PLEC could be made by coating a thin steel wire with a layer of zinc oxide nanoparticles, an electroluminescent polymer and an outer carbon nanotube (CNT) layer. The fibres are around one millimetre thick and emit blue or yellow light, although other colours could be available in the future. They can be twisted together and woven into patterns in textiles. Unlike glass optical fibres, which guide light from one location to another, these metal-polymer-carbon fibres emit light from their entire surface when an electrical signal of a few volts or more is applied between the metal inner wire and the outer CNT layer.
The authors suggest their manufacturing process can be scaled up, which could lead to large-scale production of clothing that directly emits light.
In an accompanying News & Views article, Enrique Orti and Henk Bolink write that the method “is a major step forward in the preparation of light-emitting fibres that suit integration with woven fabrics.”