Printable Batteries Bring Power To Everything And Anything

A new technique is allowing scientists to print batteries into any shape and on almost any surface. This is a major breakthrough for the development of flexible or, particularly, wearable electronics. No more bulky battery packs. Read on to find out how your future roll-able smart phone is going to be powered.

Lithium ion batteries are among the most popular for consumer electronics due to their relatively long lifetime, high energy density and minimal charge losses when not in use. Typical lithium ion batteries are fairly limited in their structure due to their structure which involves stacked or wound layers of electrodes separated by membranes and injected with electrolyte. The liquid electrolytes are combustible and can leak when not well-encased, a dangerous combination that necessitates strict packaging requirements and limits the size and shapes of the batteries.

Lithium ion battery: typical Li ion batteries like this one require a rigid case to prevent potentially dangerous electrolyte leakage. Image by Kristoferb.Lithium ion battery: typical Li ion batteries like this one require a rigid case to prevent potentially dangerous electrolyte leakage. Image by Kristoferb.

The novel battery, which is being called a PRISS battery for PRIntable Solid State, was developed by researchers at the Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology (UNIST) in South Korea led by Sang-Young Lee. South Korea has been something of a hotbed of flexible battery research in recent years. This novel version is remarkable in that it eliminates two of the major components of a typical device. Both the liquid electrolyte and separator membranes have been revisited in order to yield a fully printable battery. The team’s first innovation was to turn the liquid electrolyte into a printable paste that does not require containment. Then they produced printable electrodes which, like the electrolyte, could be cured by UV irradiation. The solid state nature of both components eliminated the need for separator membranes.

 Flexible smart phone: this paper phone out of Queen's University is just one example of a device that will benefit from a printable, flexible battery.Flexible smart phone: this paper phone out of Queen's University is just one example of a device that will benefit from a printable, flexible battery.

As told to Phys.org by lead investigator Lee, “All battery components, such as cathodes, anodes and electrolytes, can be printed on arbitrary objects of complex geometries, thereby enabling the seamless integration of shape-conformable solid-state rechargeable batteries with various form factors into complex-shaped (such as curvilinear) objects. We envision that the printable battery presented herein holds a great deal of promise for potential use in forthcoming wearable electronics and IOTs (Internet of Things), which eventually removes pre-designated battery space with fixed dimension and shape."

There are two distinct advantages to a printable solid state battery. The first is that highlighted by Lee above, the ability to add battery capacity to nearly any object and in any form. The second stems not from the resultant flexible battery, but rather from the fabrication process itself. Making a battery fully printable will minimize production costs due to the inexpensive equipment required, the low level of expertise typically required to operate industrial printers, and the high throughput with which items can be printed. Lee and team even suggest that their process can be extended to 3D printers allowing batteries of nearly any form.

So how do the new printable batteries stack up to their old-school counterparts? They compare favorably to other flexible batteries produced by traditional means with excellent long term storage capacity, 90% capacity retention after 30 cycles and no loss of performance during bending and flexing. While still not the performance equals of typical rigid batteries, their compatibility with a multitude of surfaces and ability to maintain performance when rolled will make them immediately competitive in niche markets.

In the quest for increasingly advanced technologies that can be integrated seamlessly into our lives, batteries are a component that are often overlooked. Sleek new electronics come tethered to bulky and impractical battery packs. This breakthrough in printable battery technology is what we need to bring useful flexible and wearable electronics into the mainstream.

Via Phys.org and Nano Letters.