United States Navy exploring organic nanocellulose materials for Next Gen Wearables

Nanocellulose wearable materials

The United States Navy is exploring new and advanced materials that may be used in the next generation of wearables.

There has been a lot of research over the past few years around materials that are used as skin patches and can help with numerous applications related to health monitoring.

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We have seen variants of on-skin wearables for biomonitoring from universities such as Caltech, Stanford and Carnegie Mellon.

While these ultra-thin polymer sheets do exist, printing with typically hydrophilic inks on hydrophobic polymeric substrates is challenging. Additionally, issues with breathability and biocompatibility hinder their utility for health-related applications.

To that end, the US Naval research laboratory has been examining new nano cellulose based materials for wearable design which are imperceptible and can serve as wear-and-forget health The design aspirations are to keep these very thin, conformal to the contours of the skin, self-adhering, ultra-lightweight, and translucent.

US Navy research engineers were able to develop a process that is instrumental in creating microbial nanocellulose sheets thinner than 20 .mu.m, resulting in a new material class. 

Nanocellulose is a crystalline or semi-crystalline phase of cellulose in which at least one dimension is on the nanoscale.

Microbial nanocellulose is nanocellulose grown as a product of certain bacteria, such as Acetobacter xylinum, through ingestion of glucose (fermentation). 

The fabrication of the nanocellulose printed circuit board involves three separate processes: (1) the printing of ink, for example an ink comprising palladium (Pd) catalyst; (2) the electroless plating of the metal(s); and (3) the soldering of electronic surface-mounted components. 

These ultrathin sheets present opportunities for various applications, especially for flexible electronics. Microbial nanocellulose is highly chemical and solvent resistant, mechanically strong, water permeable, and biocompatible.

The US Govt Patent around this next generation wearable technology (20200315025) was filed on March 24th and approved today.

Current wearables initiatives in the US Services are using a combination of Garmin smartwatch and Oura smart ring for early disease onset warning but with new materials design targeted for wearables, we could see many more new use cases in the future.

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