Department of Chemistry and Materials Science

Beyond e-Textiles project

Nordic network on smart light-conversion textiles beyond electric circuits (Nordic Programme for Interdisciplinary Research - NordForsk)
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Full title of the project: Nordic network on smart light-conversion textiles beyond electric circuits (Nordic Programme for Interdisciplinary Research - NordForsk)

 

About the project:

Today’s e-textiles require electric circuits and batteries that are brittle, bulky, often prevent maintenance of the textile and hinder customer acceptance. These rigid conductive elements can be made redundant due to the possibilities enabled by the design of novel yarns. In our vision, different photoresponsive molecules and nanoparticles embedded in these new yarns can directly convert photons into heat, actuation, or triggering a colour change, as well as act as catalysers for photocleanable fabrics. Hence, the aim of this project is to develop smart textiles that bypass the need for electric circuits and directly transform solar – or other ambient - illumination into useful action.

Moreover, a major challenge keeping many of the smart textile innovations at bay is that they were developed solely from technological perspectives, forgetting possible use in daily life, user attachment and aesthetics. These parameters are of pivotal importance in developing a sustainable use perspective where it is crucial to work with longevity, high use frequency and durability. The interdisciplinary collaboration between chemical engineering and design is the foundation for our collaborative innovations and it is crucial in transferring the research into practice to have a major societal impact.

Smart textiles infographic / Image by Aalto University, Zahra Madani

Our network aims to unlock the full commercial potential of smart textiles by opening up ways for light-powered textiles that can find uses, for instance, as sunshine-based dry cleaning or disinfecting of clothes, UV-powered water purification nets, light-collecting tents, and incident irradiation adaptable window shades/curtains. Overall, our goal is to bring together critical mass and to form a network to serve particularly Nordic industries that could benefit from progress in smart textiles. Moreover, we aim to enhance Nordic integrity in exchanging the best practices of teaching design thinking, as well as facilitating interdisciplinary collaboration between scientists, engineers, designers and artists. 

This project is a consortium project that is being implemented in collaboration with the University of Turku (UTU), VIA University College (VIA), University of Borås (UB), and Iceland University of the Arts (IUA).

 

Project objectives

In order to support the intersection between science, design and fine art, we want to apply three programmatic perspectives as the basis for the research of the network:

  • Science: a programmatic perspective towards the development of new fibers (AALTO) and light-responsive and -collecting functionalities (UTU);
  • Design: a programmatic perspective towards the development of new fabrics for application in specified contexts (VIA, UB);
  • Fine Art: a speculative perspective towards the use of these materials in everyday living (IUA).

The research is built around three objectives as follows. The project activities for each objective are carried out simultaneously, and the purpose of each objective is to research technical and aesthetic functionality of fiber/yarn, fabric and possible use.

 

  1. FIBER AND YARN 

Objective  (O1): creating  a  library  of  yarns  exhibiting  five different photoconversion properties, preferably operated at different wavelengths of light, and, if desired, integrated into a multifunctional yarn.
-Our materials concepts will include (i) photothermal effect, (ii) photocatalysis, (iii) luminescent solar collection, (iv) photochromism and (v) photoactuation.

  1. TEXTILES: DESIGN AND FUNCTION

Objective (O2): translating photoresponsive filaments and yarns into textiles, so that the desired property can be simply turned on by shining the surface with the right wavelength of light or by sunlight or other ambient illumination.
-This will be realized by either weaving or knitting together different mono-or multifunctional yarns. Here, technology meets design: we research the potential by adding design qualities to the yarns and fabrics, and when possible, test the fabrics for relevant features, such as abrasion resistance, light fastness, and washing/sweat durability.

  1. SPECULATIVE USE SCENARIO

Objective (O3): utilizing prototype textiles for demonstrations of new fabrics for clothing and interior where the new functionalities give added value.
-The prototyping enables us to set-up and suggest different scenarios built on various textile qualities, pointing to potential and relevant use including perspectives for reuse/recycling. For that we apply a system building on experiments in artistic research. 

 

Project deliverables 

The target of our project is to develop photoresponsive yarns and functional fabrics for future use. We aim to also initiate a technology transformation from e-textiles powered by electricity to textiles that are directly powered by solar or other ambient illumination. On a more general level, our ambition is to renew science and design of smart textiles by turning the focus of the community towards these novel ways of making autonomously-powered soft materials.

Partner institutions:

Research strategy

In  order to get beyond e-textiles, it is necessary to leave the often-used linear way of product development, in which each phase leads to the next one (like in a stage gate model), and which usually have a narrow focus on either fiber, fabric or end-product. Therefore, we will adopt and encourage to an iterative and exploratory process, managed by a series of touchdowns in the form of biannual collaborative workshops. We want to research and develop prototypes for fiber, fabric and related future products in parallel, in order to benefit from the potential that lies in ‘cross-pollination’ between the subject areas. Each workshop is concluded with an adjusted speculative scenario setting the goal for the next period of research in fiber, fabric and products, respectively. Thus, this project will be a truly exploratory study, where we allow ourselves to benefit from and adjust the process and the direction based on insights achieved throughout the project period.

Biannual iterative workshops:

Interdisciplinary collaboration

Our interdisciplinary approach combining photophysics and -chemistry, materials science, textile engineering, product design, and visual arts, will put an increased focus on the technological production of smart textiles, combined with exploring and prototyping scenarios for future use and application. We emphasize the importance of working collaboratively, instead of in our respective silos defined by research and expertise areas, to allow the fields to influence on and learn from each other, and thereby encourage to and foster innovation. All in all, the aim of our network is both to transform the concept of smart textiles into something far beyond the limits of current e-Textiles, but also be a transformative force for the conventional ways of how science and design have been done.

 

International cooperation

Our goal is for this network to serve as a seed for a larger community working on smart light-powered textiles spreading from Nordic countries towards global impact and participation. We are engaged into very tight Nordic collaboration through our biannual collaborative workshops, and special efforts will be made to identify potential new members for our community in the Nordics and beyond.

 

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