Sweat absorbing fabrics? We have a winner!
As helpful as our various body fluids are, they are undeniably gross. I have ditched multiple workouts just because of the overwhelming sweat that envelops us. The urge to take a shower as soon as perspiration starts and gets you all wet and stinky is very real. However, sweat is the most important part of exercising. When it evaporates off of your skin, your body cools down and you get that refreshing, rejuvenating sensation.
And of course, sweat is the one obvious sign that you are reaching your fat-burning and fitness goals (not in summers, though). So there’s this ‘can’t live with it, can’t live without it’ situation. What could be the solution?
A novel film that absorbs sweat and turns it into electricity
Worry not, for a team of brilliant researchers at the National University of Singapore (NUS) have managed to create an innovative film that effectively and quickly absorbs sweat from the skin before it even reaches the fabric, thus keeping us cool and comfortable when we exercise. They have also proposed that the moisture thus retained can be channeled into powering wearable electronic devices such as fitness trackers, watches, and more.
Um, will this moisture absorber electrocute me? Like we said, worry not.
The research team leader, Assistant Professor Tan Swee Ching elaborated on how the bacterial growth and unpleasant odor from underarm sweating is a worldwide issue. Accumulated sweat in shoes can lead to health problems as well. The team demonstrated the application of their creation in underarm pads, shoe insoles, and shoe linings.
This sweat absorbing material takes in 15 times more moisture and does it 6 times faster than conventional moisture-absorbing materials like zeolites and silica gels, which have bulky structures and low water uptake. The reports of their proof-of-concept studies were published in the scientific journal Nano Energy.
How does sweat absorption×electrification work?
I’m sure you are curious about the science behind this novel film. Well, for starters, it mainly employs two hygroscopic chemicals- cobalt chloride and ethanolamine. The former is a compound that turns red when it absorbs moisture, and the latter is a highly moisture-absorbent colorless solid.
Not only does the film absorb sweat, but it also rapidly releases it when exposed to sunlight and can be ‘regenerated’ and reused over 100 times! Honestly, that’s a pretty good deal for such a highly engineered material. Speaking of, it also shows a pretty cool color dynamic. It slowly turns from blue to purple, to pink as an indicator of the degree of moisture absorption.
Finally, the ultimate upgrade has to be the wearable energy harvesting device designed by the NUS team. It comprises 8 electrochemical cells (ECs) which use the novel film as an electrolyte. Combining the approximately 0.57 volts generated by each EC, the researchers were able to demonstrate the potential of battery-less wearables powered using human sweat.
With the innovation having been thoroughly tested, NUS now wishes to work with companies worldwide to incorporate this novel film into consumer products.
Sweat and textiles- An exciting history
With our curious and talented scientists continuously discovering ways to improve the quality of life, it’s no surprise that there have been other attempts at utilizing sweat for efficient purposes. For instance, a young researcher named Rohit Nemani was bothered by the risks of overheating and dehydration that athletes face, especially in hot weather, so he came up with the idea of using the electrically charged salts present in our sweat to power a cooling system in the sweatshirt that he designed.
A team of Swedish scientists developed an electricity-generating fabric that becomes even stronger when wet and can be used as a shoulder strap or as upholstery and mats on a larger scale. A sweaty workout is all you need to convert your clothing items into a power source.
Another pioneering research in smart textiles paved the way for a material that uses sweat as a switch to cool you down in hot surroundings and to warm you up in cold ones- the perfect high-performance fabric for thermal management.
Indubitably, these are e some of the best materials that can absorb sweat.
Science keeps coming up with new ideas to minimize resource consumption while producing greater outputs. Such innovations can help ease the burden on conventional, non-renewable sources of energy (like air conditioners and heaters). What are your thoughts?