David Papp Blog

Flexible, printable, rechargeable, batteries are on the horizon

As smartphones get even smarter, screen resolutions clearer, processing speeds faster and 3D graphics more and more lifelike, one aspect that hasn’t really changed all that much in the ever-evolving technological landscape are batteries. Though lithium-ion battery manufacturers constantly find ways to increase energy efficiency, performance, and capacity, we haven’t really experienced any major breakthroughs in battery technology. Until recently, that is.

While we might have to wait a bit longer until we get super-powered batteries that could provide juice for today’s devices for months on end, Imprint Energy, a startup company based in California, has been testing a pretty unique type of battery. It’s a zinc-polymer battery that’s ultra-thin, bendable, rechargeable and, get this, can be printed out of a typical industrial screen printer. The firm plans to sell this to makers of medical devices, wearable electronics, and environmental sensors.

Imprint developed the concept through extensive research that started at Berkeley. After collaborating with a Japanese developer, they were able to make use of a 3D printer to produce these microscopic zinc batteries.

By using zinc, you could tell immediately they were going for a smaller and lighter battery design as zinc doesn’t require the same bulky protective material needed by the much more unstable lithium batteries. By developing a solid polymer electrolyte, they found a way to prevent dendrites from developing and causing the battery to short – a common problem when it comes to zinc-based batteries.

What can these batteries be used for?
For now, Imprint has been tapped by the U.S. military, working with them to integrate the new battery design for sensors that monitor the health of soldiers. Aside from wearable electronics, the flexible batteries could also be used on smart labels for easier inventory purposes or tracking of delivered packages, food, or other items.

Beyond that, who knows what other future devices these cutting-edge batteries could power? What we can say for certain is that with the advent and continued development of smaller and virtually weightless batteries such as these, manufacturers are paving the way for endless possibilities when it comes to mobile and wearable technologies.

17 thoughts on “Flexible, printable, rechargeable, batteries are on the horizon”

  1. What an exciting innovation. I can see it leading to mobile devices becoming much thinner and lighter in the future. It’s odd to think that nobody has really developed a way to decrease the size and weight of batteries before now, but I suppose the introduction of the 3D printer has opened up a wealth of possibilities.

  2. I’m not real sure that batteries need to change all that much anymore. Apart from increasing the capacity or perhaps adding more ways to charge them (via solar perhaps) the battery is pretty much fine the way it is. Sure they can always get smaller so developers have more room to work with, or a higher capacity so more powerful equipment can run on them. But honestly there isn’t all that much that can be done with them to get excited about.

    • I disagree with batteries being ‘pretty much fine the way they are’. If it’s one thing that’s holding innovation down, it’s the current battery technologies. It’s pretty much a consensus that current battery tech is ‘plateauing’ because the scientists and engineers in the field have exhausted the limits of NiCads and Li-based technology. Why do you think there’s a shift away from the traditional chemical compositions and a scramble towards new substrates and what not. It’s because electronic components are getting smaller and more compact, but batteries aren’t.

  3. This is really interesting. Sometimes I think that we are not advancing as much as we should be, and advances like this help me realize that people are diligently working towards progress. While we are all doing a number of different things and working in different fields we are all moving together.

    I’ve always thought that the current battery technology is lame or not as good as it should be. This is extremely cool.

    • I agree with you completely, sometimes I wonder how the hell we almost have teleportation but still we’re unable making something up when it comes to batteries, but that doesn’t mean that there’s not people actually working on it, because it doesn’t seem to be a simple thing to do, but I’m pretty sure that it’s completely possible, that’s what we’re here for, to reinvent things and make some progress, I guess.

  4. This solves many problems – mainly in wearable tech, as was mentioned in the article. A future where our… er… sweater could act as a charger of sorts for our smartwatch and smartphone doesn’t seem so strange after that.

    Problem is, I think the biggest problem right now is the efficiency on batteries. Our smartphone get bigger and bigger, have larger and larger batteries and yet, through the last decade, we didn’t see specifically their battery tech getting better, resulting in them having an even worse and worse “uptime” with each new model. It may look like it’s getting better, but I’ve got two Windows Mobile phones in a drawer right next to me that could work for three-four days on a single charge. And, back when Windows Mobile ruled, we still poked fun at them for not lasting as long as Nokia’s and Ericsson’s “then-dumbphones”, that lasted a full week or even more on a single charge.

    And if you look at what Tesla Motors has to offer, you’ll see most of their cars weight and volume being taken up by their batteries.

    Thin, foldable ones are all nice and well to have, but wouldn’t help in today’s tech needs. They’re a solution for future problems most of us don’t have to deal with – yet.

  5. Crazy concept. I thought when they started making bendable screens that was crazy enough! There is really no boundaries with technology these days!

  6. This is simply one of those things that make me say, dang, technology is amazing. And the science behind it, too.

  7. Excellent, hopefully this technology will help other companies improve their batteries’ lives. Specially cell phones, can’t believe they still keep adding special features to cell phones when really they should be working on extending the battery’s life.

  8. This is definitely good to hear, smaller and more flexible batteries in all my electronics is what I hope to see the most. But part of the reason why batteries still “suck” is due to how the new phones get better and better. More features on each iteration of a phone. It’s not that no one has tried to develop smaller and more efficient batteries but most of the work being done is still developmental, not ready for widespread consumer use yet. But this article definitely highlights the possibilities of future battery tech!

  9. Having a flexible battery will change the way the current cellphone industry is doing. Can you imagine how much thinner phones would be with this new technology? People will even be able to carry extra batteries at barely any weight. I can’t wait to see this technology at work. Even laptops would be paper thin! I’m so excited just thinking about it.

    • Me too Jen, nothing but good can come out from this! I hope we see this new technology being adapted to laptops as well! I’d love to have a lighter laptop without the worry of that nasty lithium battery going berserk and exploding on my lap or belly. I just can’t wait to see this new technology being applied to our laptops!

  10. This is so cool. No more worrying about charging and all that, we could just 3D print out batteries for phones and whatnot. I’m definitely getting my hands on this if/when it comes out. Hopefully in my lifetime lol

  11. This is really exciting! Right now I’m dreading the day I will have to get a new battery for my laptop, mostly because of the price! Plus lithium batteries do make me nervous, I can’t believe we are still using that kind of material for our batteries; they’re so heavy and dangerous! I’m hoping this new technology can be at the reach of most of us soon.

  12. 3D printers have come a long way and I’m honestly really excited for what they are going to bring to the table. They are one of the best inventions of the current decade.
    Batteries are going to benefit a lot and I’m really curious how they are going to develop them with a 3D printer.

  13. Should they make the batteries to work with smartphones we’ll have to stop worrying about our phones dying because you could have numerous backups. After all if batteries are smaller and lighter, you could have several of them in your bag.

    I wonder though if there’ll come a time when anyone will be able to print their batteries. Companies that make batteries will be driven out of business.

  14. Imagine if this type of battery were available for mobile devices? I would buy this one! It seems to be a like a really practical option, I will look forward to see if they can make this one up.
    And also, it seems to be a great option in emergency situations, a natural disaster or something like that, this thing can actually save some lives, that’s amazing.
    Thanks for sharing, man!

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