Batteries store electricity, but they’re not ideal for wearable Health Tech devices. They aren’t all that great in terms of how much power they can store in a given space, they are slow to charge, and they are slow to discharge. That’s why designers are carefully watching the development of supercapacitors. These devices can store a lot of power in a small space, can release a lot of energy quickly, and can be recharged quickly. Carbon nanotubes and graphene have received a lot of attention, but researchers at MIT may have hit on a better solution.

Yarn made from niobium nanowires turns out to be an excellent supercapacitor, especially when you add a coating of conductive polymer to the nanowires. The result is a material that is 100 times more conductive than carbon nanotubes, highly flexible, and can be woven into fabrics. It also can store five times as much energy as a carbon nanotube design.

While it may not be familiar to the general public, it turns out that niobium is a fairly common material that is already in wide use. This means that the supercapacitors should be able to be fabricated at a fairly low cost and without much difficulty. Currently, the devices have only been made in the laboratory, but if processes can be developed for large scale production, we could see clothing that could gather and store power for a body-wide network of sensors and other useful devices.