Innovative clothing maker Vollebak has produced a Graphene Jacket that can already conduct power and store body heat, will one day be able to stop a bullet.
Vollebak was founded by New London-based twin brothers Nick and Steve Tidball, adventure athletes who set out to make the most advanced sports gear anyone has ever worn. Already they have created indestructible 100-Year Hoodies made entirely from kevlar, solar-charged jackets that can be charged by the sun and made to glow, and a clothing system built with the same ceramic technology used in jet engines and space shuttles.
And now the Graphene Jacket.
“While it’s completely invisible and only a single atom thick, graphene is the lightest, strongest, most conductive material ever discovered, and has the same potential to change life on Earth as stone, bronze and iron once did,” explain the brothers on their website. “But it remains difficult to work with, extremely expensive to produce at scale, and lives mostly in pioneering research labs.”
So the brothers have produced a graphene-coated jacket as experimental prototypes – but available online to purchase for US$695.
“Our aim is to open up our R&D and accelerate discovery by getting graphene out of the lab and into the field so that we can harness the collective power of early adopters as a test group. No-one yet knows the true limits of what graphene can do, so the first edition of the Graphene Jacket is fully reversible with one side coated in graphene and the other side not.”
The reversible jacket looks pretty much like a regular raincoat from the outside. But one side is constructed from a new fabric made from graphene blended with polyurethane and nylon, while the other is made from matte black high-stretch, high-strength nylon. Depending on which way around you wear it and what you do in it, the jacket will interact with your body and the world around it in a series of different ways.
Graphene conducts heat better than any material on Earth, the brothers explain. “So when you’re wearing the jacket with the graphene side next to your body in cold weather it helps equalise your skin temperature by sending heat from the hot bits of your body like your head, to the cold bits like your hands. It’s the first wave of conductive fabrics that will carry heat or electricity around your body but without any power source. Lab tests have shown that the closer to your body the material is, the more effective it will be at regulating your skin temperature and increasing it by an average of 2°C.”
One of the first prototypes of the Graphene Jacket was so highly conductive you could attach a power source at one end, a light bulb at the other and it would light up.
“Having debated how useful or dangerous that would be, we decided to increase the material’s resistance to electrical currents, by spreading out the graphene nanoplatelets. This first edition of the Graphene Jacket still conducts electricity, but at a far lower and safe level.”
Leave the jacket out in the sun, with the graphene side exposed to the heat source, it will warm up and store the heat. Turn it inside out so the graphene is next to your skin, it acts like a radiator, retaining the heat and spreading it around your body. And while wearing the graphene next to your body will keep you warmer by increasing your skin temperature, it will also create less humidity next to your body than a normal membrane.
“In lab tests the humidity was consistently lower during every phase of exercise and recovery, so you should feel less hot and sweaty. It’s believed that the graphene is somehow able to disperse the extra humidity from the heat, but the ‘how’ remains unknown for now.”
Better still, the Graphene Jacket is impermeable to nearly all gases and liquids – except water. That’s OK, the jacket is still waterproof – but you need to wear it with the graphene on the inside, blocking water leaking in but letting sweat evaporate through the graphene coating.
As for the bulletproof part… well, the Tidballs are working on it.
“As it’s only a single atom thick, graphene increases the strength of the jacket in all abrasion and puncture tests, and it does it without adding a single gram of weight. Theoretically you need 10 layers of graphene to stop a bullet and the tech isn’t there yet. When it is, we’ll be the first trying to make a lightweight suit of extreme sports armour.”
Vollebak worked engaged partners in Italy and Portugal to make the jacket – the same companies which built Michael Phelps’ swimsuit for the 2008 Beijing Olympics that was banned for being too fast.
“When clothing can start conducting heat and electricity all sorts of cool things can start happening. It means that over the next decade your clothing can start to become a platform for other innovations. And that’s really what we’re interested in, said the brothers.
“Heating is not the end game. Our view is that wearable technology will become increasingly invisible over the next 10 to 20 years. Instead of wearing it over your eyes or on your wrist, it will be embedded as clothing and tech simply merge.”