The US air force wants to build a suit that can charge your phone

The main aim of the clothing would be to take some weight off soldiers’ shoulders.
The main aim of the clothing would be to take some weight off soldiers’ shoulders.

A team of researchers in the US has developed fabric capable of powering electronic devices, which could be turned into a suit to charge up mobile phones.

Engineers at the University of Cincinnati are working with the Air Force Research Laboratory in a bid to reduce the load carried by military personnel.

Mark Haase, a University of Cincinnati graduate, said: “As much as one-third of the weight they carry is just batteries to power all of their equipment. So even if we can shave a little off that, it’s a big advantage for them in the field.”

The solution would not only serve as a useful phone charger, but also for lights, night-vision and communications gear regularly carried by soldiers.

Carbon nanotubes are the basis of the research because of their unique properties – they are strong, conductive and heat-resistant. Making use of the Air Force Lab’s sophisticated equipment, researchers are essentially able to “grow” the nanotubes.

Detailed shot of carbon nanotubes.
Detailed shot of carbon nanotubes (Joseph Fuqua II/UC Creative Services) (Joseph Fuqua II/ University of C)

“Our carbon-containing gas is introduced into the reactor. When the carbon gas interacts with our ‘seed,’ it breaks down and re-forms on the surface. We let it grow until it reaches the size we want,” Haase explained.

At the moment, the lab is only able to produce about 45 metres of carbon nanotube thread at a time. Researchers also need to make sure it’s nontoxic, as high levels of exposure to carbon nanotubes can lead to lung damage.

Don’t expect to see the technology going mainstream anytime soon, as it’s too expensive for the moment.

“We’re working with clients who care more about performance than cost. But once we perfect synthesis, scale goes up considerably and costs should drop accordingly,” Haase said. “Then we’ll see carbon nanotubes spread to many, many more applications.”