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Printable batteries to make light work of embedded electronics

By

July 6, 2009

Inexpensive printable batteries (Photo: Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft)

Inexpensive printable batteries (Photo: Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft)

The main problems with today's battery technology is that, despite gradual advancements in recent years, cells are still too big, heavy and expensive, making them impractical for the many applications in which weight or price play an essential role. Researchers at the Fraunhofer research facility in Germany, however, have taken a radically different approach towards the building process and have developed an incredibly light, thin and inexpensive battery that could - if such a thing is possible - end up bringing even more electronics into our everyday life.

The research, led by Prof. Reinhard Baumann of the Fraunhofer Research Institution for Electronic Nano Systems, obtained these innovative cells by making use of a silk-screen printing method that very closely resembles the one used to print on T-shirts and road signs.

Printable electronics, which entails using widely available printing technology to create electronic circuits on all sorts of low-cost materials, is a relatively new but very promising field that aims to cut down considerably the costs of producing electronics, and was therefore a natural choice for the team.

The batteries weigh less than 1g each, are less than a millimeter thick, and are also environmentally friendly in that they don't contained any mercury. What's more, the cells are quite inexpensive — the researchers hope they can be mass-produced and sold at less than USD$0.10 apiece — and erogate a standard 1.5V voltage like a normal battery.

From a technical standpoint, the cells are composed of different layers, the most important of which are a zinc anode and a manganese cathode which interact with one another to produce electricity, with only minor differences from the very common zinc-carbon cells, in which carbon powder is mixed with manganese in the cathode.

Unfortunately, the two poles of the batteries tend to gradually dissipate during their life cycle, which makes them unsuitable for applications where reliability and a long, steady life cycle are essential. They would, on the other hand, be excellent serving as a cheap power source for LEDs and other low-power devices.

Perhaps one of the most interesting applications of this technology in conjunction with flexible electronics could be embedding inexpensive microchips into products for sale in supermarkets and other stores, where they could serve a variety of purposes including tracking, preventing thefts and, in the case of food, checking that the quality of the product has not deteriorated by the time we consume it.

The researchers have already produced the batteries on a laboratory scale and hope that their mass production will start by the end of the year.

Via: Fraunhofer Institute.

About the Author
Dario Borghino Dario studied software engineering at the Polytechnic University of Turin. When he isn't writing for Gizmag he is usually traveling the world on a whim, working on an AI-guided automated trading system, or chasing his dream to become the next European thumbwrestling champion.   All articles by Dario Borghino
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