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International Journal of Fiber and Textile Research


Universal Research Publications. All rights reserved

ISSN 2277-7156
Review Article
ELECTRICALLY CONDUCTIVE FIBRE SUBSTRATES
Arup K. Rakshit & Manisha A. Hira
Veermata Jijabai Technological Institute, Mumbai 400 019
Email: akrakshit@vjti.org.in, man.neeraja@gmail.com
Received 17 July 2014; accepted 07 August 2014
Abstract
Textiles are an aggregation of fibres in various forms and fibres are made up of polymeric chains that are little known to
conduct electricity. However, these offer advantage of flexibility and ease of making-up, hence have found their way to
make conductive material. The term electro-textiles, known as E-textiles, refer to fabrics that can function electrically as
electronics and behave physically as textiles. The paper discusses the basics of conductivity in solids, especially metals and
fibres like carbon. It then reviews the various techniques that have been adopted to improve the electrical conductivity of
fibre substrates viz., use of conductive materials as fibres, yarns or threads, coating with conductive materials and using an
inherently conductive material/polymer. The advantages and limitations of each of the methods have been discussed.
Further the paper highlights the categories of conductive fibre substrates based on their electrical resistance and the various
applications they can be used for.
2014 Universal Research Publications. All rights reserved
Keywords: Electrical conductivity, textiles, carbon, metallic yarns, coating, carbon nanotubes, graphene woven fabrics.
1. INTRODUCTION
Fibre substrates are thought of as a composition of
polymeric chains having high resistance to flow of current.
These are however characterized with flexibility and ease
of making up. In the later part of the twentieth century,
research was directed towards integrating smart materials
into textiles, making them suitable for functional
performance. The branch of smart materials emerged with
this. These are textiles that would sense and react to the
environmental stimuli. The stimuli could be mechanical,
thermal, chemical electrical or magnetic. Such smart
materials are categorized as passive smart materials and
active smart materials. The passive materials only sense the
stimuli; for example a built in thermistor in a shirt would
log body temperature over time. An active smart material
on the other hand would not just sense the stimulus like
temperature, but may also respond to it. As an example,
with an active smart material incorporated in the shirt, not
only temperature would be sensed, but also the shirt sleeves
may be rolled up, if temperature rises beyond a particular
limit. The fundamental components of smart materials are
sensors and actuators. Interconnectivity between sensors
and actuators can be established by incorporating electrical
conductivity in flexible and comfortable textile material.
The term electro-textiles, known as E-textiles, refers to
fabrics that can function electrically as electronics and
behave physically as textiles. E-textiles are located in the

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potential area of intersection among textiles, electronics,


and information science (Fig. 1). These E-textiles find uses
in numerous applications ranging from military and
security to personalised healthcare, hygiene and
entertainment [1-3].

Fig.1: The Area of Electro -Textiles Conductive Textiles


A textile material can be considered as E- textiles, if it can
conduct electricity. The traditional textile materials do not
readily conduct electricity; rather they oppose flow of

International Journal of Fiber and Textile Research 2014; 4(3): 44-48

electricity and are termed as insulators. Metal, carbon, or


conductive polymers are incorporated in basic textile
structures to improve conductivity. Thus E textiles are
produced using advanced technologies that help to derive
flexible pliable textile structures with desired electrical
conductivity.
2. CONDUCTIVITY IN SOLIDS
Conductivity is the allowance of electrical current to flow.
Resistance refers to a materials resistance to allow this
electrical flow, therefore conductive materials have low
resistance and insulators have a high resistance.
Structurally, solids comprise of atoms. An atom consists of
positively charged protons and negatively charged
electrons, generally each atom has an equal amount of
protons to electrons so that overall the atom remains
neutral. Conductivity of electricity through materials
(solids) is a transfer of electrons that results in positive and
negatively charged materials.
Solids like metal has a unique metallic bonding
system where the electrons of the atoms are shared by
the nucleus of all atoms in the material, creating a sea of
electrons, as seen in figure 2 allowing for their easy flow.

diamond structure all 4 of the carbon atoms valence


electrons are covalently bonded to other carbon atoms,
therefore none are available to transfer. As illustrated in fig.
3(a), this is not the case in graphite, as each atom is only
attached to 3 other carbon atoms, leaving one available for
transfer.
Fig. 3(b) displays the molecular structure of a carbon
nanotube, which demonstrates a structure similar to that of
graphite, with each atom bonded to three other atoms,
however the cylindrical structure allows for electron
transfer throughout the structure, equating a good
conductor. Carbon nanotubes are the basis of the carbon
fibre.

Fig. 3(a). Molecular structure of Diamond and Carbon

Fig.2: Sea of electrons in Metals


Not all atoms readily give up their electrons, and
the mechanisms that bind atoms together can vary greatly
therefore the ability to allow a flow of electrons is not equal
across all materials. Hence materials like plastics do not
allow for electron flow as electrons are held more tightly to
their nucleus.
Many a times, when solids conduct electricity,
electrons can become unattached from their atom and flow
through a material as electricity. This creates negatively
and positively charged materials. These positively and
negatively charged materials will then be attracted to one
another, and they try to regain an equilibrium or neutral
state.
2.1 CARBON AS A CONDUCTIVE MATERIAL
Carbon, at an atomic level, has the potential to be a good
conductor, due to its availability of valence electrons,
which can transfer to other materials to create an unequal
proton to electron ratio and therefore charges. However, not
all allotropes of carbon are conductive; it depends upon the
molecular structure. If all valence electrons are taken up in
the bonding, there are none available to be transferred in
the creating an electrical current[5]. For example in a

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Fig. 3(b). Molecular structure of a carbon nanotube.


3.

DERIVING ELECTRICAL CONDUCTIVITY IN


TEXTILES
The traditionally insulator type textile materials can be
made conductive by incorporating metal fibres, metal
particles or conductive polymers into them. The approaches
taken to add conductivity to textiles vary greatly and are
dependant upon the area of application. It is the end use,
which will dictate functional factors such as required
voltage, strength, durability and ductility, etc [7]. Broadly,
the various approaches include methods namely:
i.
Use of conductive materials as fibres, yarns or
threads.
ii.
Coating with conductive materials

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iii.
Using an inherently conductive material/polymer
In clothing, comfort is a requirement so conductive yarns
have to remain flexible and soft whilst maintaining their
conductive function.
3.1
Use of conductive materials as fibres, yarns or
threads
Metals are the most conductive materials on earth. They are
endowed with ductility and flexibility too. Historically
metallic threads like gold, silver copper have been used for
beautification and embroidery on textile fabrics[8]. The
similar metallic threads can be used to derive electrical
conductivity in textiles.
Metals are superior in strength and fineness, and
textiles are selected for comfort. In order to produce a
successful conductive yarn, the best mix of conductive and
non-conductive materials is critical. As a thread takes on a
bigger portion of conductive components, it loses the
typical textile properties such as flexibility or drapability
and becomes more conductive. Many patents[8-10] have
been granted and much experimental research has been
conducted to produce a good conductive yarn. Conductive
fibres like silver, copper, stainless steel, nickel have been
some of the fibres used in this development.
Metal fibres can be incorporated in the textile yarns or
fabric structures in various ways. Few of the methods are
depicted below:
i) Metal-wrapped yarns is a composite of metal and
textile yarn. A conductive metallic yarn is wrapped
with one or more strands of non-conductive textile
filaments. (fig.4)
ii) Metal filled yarns are obtained by having a fine metal
wire as core covered with non-conductive fibres. The
textile covering protects the core metal and helps it to
withstand physical stresses and provides insulation.
iii) The third type is one wherein the metal fibre does not
form the core, rather it replaces one or entire strands in
the plied yarns.

Fig. 4: Yarns Wrapped / Plied with Metal Strands


Other methods of integration of metal fibres are
weaving the metal strands into the fabrics structures, as
either warp or weft yarn. Such structures are normally plain
woven as it is the most stable structure.
Knitting of fabrics with conductive yarns strands is a
possibility, however, knitting demands more flexibility of
metallic fibre strands to be used. Stitching conductive yarns
in the planer fabric or embroidering fabric surface with
metallic strands are some of the possibilities of
incorporating conductive strands in the fabrics.
Wires have been found to not provide a good comfort
level. Also, the metallic materials used can be brittle and

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fail following prolonged wear conditions. Therefore


traditional textile materials which already exhibit the
required qualities in terms of comfort are being modified in
order to obtain conductive qualities.
Apart from use of metals, fibres like carbon, basalt and
polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) may be blended with other
fibres to obtain electrical conductivity in the textile
structure. These fibres can also be used as staple or
filament strands. Composite blended yarn may be spun or
nonwoven fabric structures out of these are formed to
derive fabrics with electrical conductivity in the dissipative
range.
Metals like gold, silver, copper, steel, nickel can reach
upto electrical resistance values in the range of conductive
materials (< 102 ohms) while fibres carbon, basalt, Poly
tetra fluoro ethylene (PTFE) reach values in the range 103
to 108 ohms. However, this method suffers from the
limitation of brittleness of conductive fibre materials.
3.2 Coating with conductive materials
3.2.1
Metallising of textile substrates
Textile fabrics can be coated with metals such as copper,
nickel, silver and combination thereof to obtain desired
electrical conductivity. The coating method employed was
mainly chemical method. The various techniques under this
are laminating with aluminum foil, dyeing with copper
sulfide solution or methods of electroless plating[11-13].
Electroless plating is a non-electrolytic method of
deposition from solution which is explainable by mixed
potential theory, a combination oxidation and reduction
processes.
3.2.2 Coating with conductive polymers
Conducting polymer is a class of materials with extensive
de-localisation of p-electrons conjugated network with
wide applications in number of technologies such as energy
storage,
molecular
recognition
Electromagnetic
interference (EMI) shielding and Electrostatic discharge
(ESD), light emitting diode (LED) opto-electronic
devices and corrosion protection.
Conducting polymers generally show a high redox
behavior with a distinguishable chemical memory. They are
hence considered prominent as materials for fabrication of
industrial devices. The p-bands of delocalized molecular
orbital help in achieving controlled semi-conductor and
metal like behavior. This is obtained by a controlled degree
of band filling. Polyaniline and polypyrole are considered
in this class due to their environmental stability and
moderate conductivity[16-17].
Coating may be given to the yarn, fibre or fabric.
Both these methods help in deriving resistivity in the range
of conductive materials, less than 10 ohms. However, it is
desirable to work upon the stability of the coating.
Developments in this area are taking place.
Innovative and environmentally friendly ways of
imparting conductive properties to textiles are continually
explored to advance the functionality, bringing increased
durability and reducing the cost, which would substantially
open up the end use possibilities[19-20]. These methods
include the use of Chemical Vapour Deposition (CVD) as a
means to impact nano-coatings using plasma processing.
Physical vapour Deposition is a technique used for

International Journal of Fiber and Textile Research 2014; 4(3): 44-48

depositing carbon or graphene is used as a stable technique


to get fine conductive graphene nanofibers, as shown in
fig.5. This is enabled using high temperature plasma.

Fig.5: Graphene woven fabrics


Screen printing of metal based inks on textile
substrates has advantage of being inexpensive, flexible and
fast method to obtain light weight conductive coated
textiles[21-22]. Normally silver compounds are used for
screen printing. It is found that thickner the coating, the
greater is the conductivity.
3.3 Using inherently conductive materials/ polymers
Use of inherently conductive materials in the dope of
normally non-conductive synthetic fibres helps to make
them conductive. Fine conductive metal powders, carbon
black or carbon nano tubes may be loaded on to the dope
while spinning the synthetic fibre. The resultant fibre spun
is conductive.
There have been various studies and patents
reported on spinning bicomponent melt spun polyester or
polyamide fibres loaded with such conductive fillers[2325]. Studies have been carried out on whether the
conductive filler should be loaded as core or as sheath or
side-by side. Various studies have also been reported on the
extent of loading of the conductive filler to obtain desired
conductivity without marring the other physical and
mechanical properties of the resultant fibre. There is
additionally suffused conductive fibre available. These are
generally polyester or polyamide fibres suffused with an
outer coat of carbon. Ex-static or Resistat belong to this
group. These are used for static dissipative textiles.
Carbon Nanotubes display a high level of
conductivity, because of their molecular structure, and due
to their nano scale can be applied to textiles through
conventional finishing techniques with minimal impact on
handle or look. Carbon nanotubes (CNTs) display a
conductivity similar to that of copper and are applied as
above, either as a coating of the fabric or yarns or as
particles in the fibre. The present trend of studies is using
these as conductive materials in the dope. The level of
conductivity obtained is similar to metals. Research is
directed towards optimizing the content of CNT in the dope
and the homogenous mixing in the dope to get uniform
conductivity characterisitics, without being detrimental to
any other physical or mechanical characteristics.
Depending upon the nature of conductive material
loaded on to the non-conductive material, the resistivity can
range from less thane 102 to 106 ohms.
4. CLASSIFICATION OF CONDUCTIVE TEXTILES
With such understanding, textile materials can be classified

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based on their electrical resistance values[28]. Electrical


resistance of a material indicates how strongly the material
opposes the flow of electric current through it. Based on
the electrical resistance of the materials, conductive textiles
can be classified into following groups:
Insulators
These textile materials have electrical resistance greater
than 1011 ohms. These do not allow the electrical current to
flow through them
Dissipaters
These textile materials have electrical resistance in the
range 104 to 1011 ohms. These textile materials do not allow
accumulation of electrical charge on their surface. The
dissipation increases as moisture level in the textile
increases.
Conductors
These are textiles materials with resistance less thane 104
ohms. Such textile materials allow smooth passage of
electric current.
Conductive textiles find various applications based on their
level of electrical conductivity (electrical resistance)
defined above. There are three main application areas for
the functionality of conductivity in textiles;
To reduce or dissipate static electricity
To carry electrical current or data signals
To shield again electromagnetic radiation
Accordingly, the conductive textiles can find application in
Electrical integrated circuits as sensors simplest like
Electrical heating pads
Wearable computing systems /Interactive clothing
devices like health monitoring systems, mobile phones,
MP3 players, computers and GPS can be integrated
into garments.
Electrostatic discharge textiles
Electromagnetic shielding textiles
Electrical current charged and stored in textiles has the
potential to offer an alternative power source for
battery operated technology. This helps in increasing
efficiency and reducing battery weight.
The extent of electrical conductivity of textile substrate
could vary depending upon the application. For EMI
shielding, electrical resistance of less than 102 ohms is
desirable while of electrostatic discharge electrical
resistance in the range 10 4 to 10 11 ohms. A dielectric
textile or insulator applications textile used should have
electrical resistance above 1014 ohms.
5. SUMMING UP
The discussion above gives an insight to the area of
emerging field of Electro-textiles. An important aspect of
these textiles is their electrical conductivity. The various
aspects of conductivity in solids and semi-conductors like
carbon are discussed. The focus of research in the area of
developing conductive materials involves incorporating
metal wires/ particles in the textiles structures. Although,
these provide the requisite conductivity, they pose
limitation on flexibility and usage of textiles. The
incorporation of carbon nanomaterials into synthetic fibres
help in improving conductivity of the fibres. Various
methods have been tried and their suitability depend
functional requirement in terms of conductivity of the

International Journal of Fiber and Textile Research 2014; 4(3): 44-48

material, strength, durability and ductility, etc. Applications


of conductive textiles could range from simple electric
devices to wearable monitoring systems and protective
garments like electrostatic discharge textiles to
electromagnetic shielding textiles.
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Source of support: Nil; Conflict of interest: None declared

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International Journal of Fiber and Textile Research 2014; 4(3): 44-48