Researchers in the smart electronics and materials (SEMS) group in electronics and computer science and the synthesis, catalysis and flow group in chemistry at the University of Southampton are investigating a new technique for achieving light emitting textiles that could be used in future medical, performance sports, automotive, architecture and fashion materials.

The project, funded by the United Kingdom’s Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, is formulating light emitting films on the surface of standard textiles through electronically functional inks and spray coating, along with cutting-edge inkjet and dispenser printing processes, according to a report from the university.

SEMS head and principal investigator Steve Beeby says, “Textiles are demanding substrates for device printing due to their rough surface topology, porosity and the necessary low processing temperatures. The achievement of suitable functional materials along with reliable, consistent fabrication processes will enable a huge range of new textile products.” The team is investigating the fabrication of textile organic light emitting electrochemical cells (OLECs) that can selectively operate at visible and ultra-violet (UV) wavelengths, representing a step change in etextile capability.

OLECs are electrochemically stable in air, require a low turn on voltage and have demonstrated a high luminance level, allowing them to be clearly visible in everyday lighting. The use of UV-OLEC technology will enable photochromic colourchanging textiles capable of fast colour change, low operation voltage and power consumption, with a more diverse choice of colours and a clearer, more pronounced, change in appearance.

UV-OLECs will also support textiles to perform ultraviolet germicidal irradiation (UVGI), which is a disinfection method that uses short wavelength UVC light. Textile-based UVG light can be incorporated into medical applications such as smart bandages to treat or prevent infection and reduce reliance on antibiotics.