Electroloom + the National Science Foundation

NSF headquarters in Arlington, Virginia

Kicking off 2016 with the NSF

We are thrilled and honored to announce that Electroloom has received a Phase I Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF). It is extremely rewarding to see a prestigious research institution such as the NSF get behind our goal of empowering more people to design and create clothing and fabrics in a new, advanced way. These grants are highly competitive, and a look at the list of 2016 awardees shows we are in very good company.

The grant application and selection processes are quite rigorous. We submitted our initial grant application back in June 2015. Our application was then sent to a panel of industry experts convened by the NSF, who critiqued our proposal and fired back a long list of questions. We responded to their questions in early October, and in December we were notified we had been selected as a 2016 awardee. This grant will be tremendously helpful in furthering development of Electroloom into a commercially viable product.

The main goal we established in our grant application was making “considerable improvements to the electrospinning process so that textile prototyping will be faster, more reliable, and less wasteful.” We are only a month and a half into our grant period, but we are already seeing tremendous results, which we will happily be sharing soon.

The Henry Ford’s Innovation Nation

If you happen to watch CBS on Saturday mornings, you might have seen our cameo on The Henry Ford’s Innovation Nation. A film crew stopped by Electroloom HQ back in August 2015 to get some interviews with the team and some shots of our machine in-action. The full episode, titled 3-D Printed Clothes, aired on January 23rd, 2016, and is now available to watch online. Check it out, our segment starts at about the 05:55 mark:

Still white as a sheet?

In our Kickstarter campaign, we showed you a glimpse at some of our very early experiments with creating colored fabric using the electrospinning process. Traditional fabric dying is a very resource intensive process that generates a lot of waste, and uses a tremendous amount of water, so we’ve hoped to improve that by dying our fibers directly as they electrospin. Nik, our material scientist, recently whipped up a new blend of pigments that are compatible with our process, and we finally managed to create vibrant colors in a single step. This fabric was created exactly as you see it — no secondary dyeing, water usage, or post-processing needed.

Colored Electroloom fabrics created in a single step (white Electroloom fabric shown on bottom).

The garments we create with Electroloom use 292 times less water than a traditionally manufactured garment (according to an upcoming Harvard Meta-Life Cycle Inventory Analysis regarding Electroloom, Li 2016). This statistic hopefully helps paint a picture of the enormous waste present in modern textile production, and demonstrates the efficiencies of our electrospinning process.

Using electrospinning to create colored fabrics has other advantages as well. We recently tested out incorporating thermochromic pigments into our electrospun solution. Thermochromics are pigments that change color in response to temperature. These color changes can occur at vastly different temperatures, but we were primarily interested in creating fabrics that change color at normal skin temperatures.

New Electroloom fabric that changes color in response to heat.

We can think of so many exciting possibilities for these fabrics in the future. Athletic wear that reflects the intensity of your workouts, beanies that change color when you have a fever, gloves that warn hikers of frostbite risk. You can probably think of many more applications that haven’t even crossed our minds yet. If you do, feel free to tweet or email us your ideas.

Future Electrolooms and Kickstarter

We finally received our big shipment of parts destined to become future Electrolooms! After a long journey at sea, all the parts were all dropped off on a pallet at Electroloom HQ. Unfortunately, our modest sized office lacks a loading dock, so we carried a little over one ton of parts from our parking space into the office by hand. Although a lot of work, unwrapping that many parts felt like an engineer’s dream-come-true. The shipment consisted of everything from PCBs, to linear rails, to insulative paneling. Some of it is for our ongoing experiments, while some will be assembled into functional Electroloom prototypes.

Pallet of future Electroloom parts arriving at HQ.

We have been delivering Kickstarter sample fabric rewards since November of last year. So far we’ve sent one to everyone who provided us with an address, or about 90% of our sample backers. So, if you bought a sample fabric from us on Kickstarter and you still haven’t received it, please check your email for the address requests we sent (or contact us directly). And keep an eye on our Kickstarter page for a more detailed backer update in the next few weeks.

On to Washington DC

We’ve got a few more weeks of busy R&D work ahead of us, and then we head to Washington DC for an NSF SBIR conference for new grant awardees. We look forward to meeting all the other grant recipients.

We’ll post another update after the conference to keep everyone in the loop.

❤ the Electroloom team

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