The multi-billion dollar future of e-textiles
Mar 26, 2014 Dr Peter Harrop
The brand new IDTechEx Research report E-Textiles: Electronic Textiles 2014-2024 has a particular focus on the narrow definition of those entirely reliant on e-fibers for electronic, electro-optic and electrical functionality. Today, only conductive weavable fibers are widely available commercially. Include in that embroidery and other interleaving technologies using ribbon or fiber.
IDTechEx finds that 24% of e-textile development projects develop better conductive fibers and another 24% concern photovoltaic fibers. Next comes 16% of projects on supercapacitors on fibers, with several projects seeking multi-functionality on one fiber, such as supercapacitor layers to store the harvested energy from piezoelectric vibration harvesting or photovoltaic light and infra-red harvesting layers.
IDTechEx finds that most of the research is done in the USA. At present it looks as if progress will be modest for a few more years and a market of the order of one billion dollars may emerge in ten years when rapid market growth may begin. For that to happen, there needs to be a much wider choice of functions and good interconnection technology all surviving demanding wash cycles. Batteries on a fiber would store more electricity than supercapacitors do but they are less favoured due to cost and reliability when on a fiber.
Two wild cards may hasten market growth. They are sectors that have been very different because these fibers have not been weavable and rugged to the necessary extent but that is changing. Firstly the old fiber optic cable, useful for sensing and optics, not just data transmission, is starting to be woven and secondly the impediment short length of carbon nanotubes and nanorods such as those of the dielectric, piezoelectric and semiconductor zinc oxide is being managed in some recent woven structures. Of course, almost all electronic and electrical textiles today have iron-on or stitch-on functional patches or inlays but some have extremely tiny conventional components like integrated circuits and LEDs trapped by the fibers. These interim technologies are also covered in the report which analyses the evolving options, pros and cons and applications.
This new report, E-Textiles: Electronic Textiles 2014-2024 is part of the new IDTechEx report series headed up by Wearable Technology 2014-2024: Technologies, Markets, Forecasts. Although textiles extend beyond apparel, IDTechEx believes that e-apparel is the main addressable market for e-textiles by far, notably for the sectors medical, health, fitness, wellness and for fashion. A wider portfolio of capabilities, cost reduction and better integration will hasten the e-textile market along together with a wholehearted commitment by a major brand when its owners consider the technology ready for prime time.