The Incredible, Paintable Battery

paint-on batteryThe discovery of the electron as a part of every atom of every element was initially seen as a complete waste of time. It had, on the surface, no practical application. Now, we live in a world that runs on electricity, and devising new ways to harness the power of the “worthless” electron is a billion dollar industry. Every company that works in the mobile and rechargeable power field is tirelessly searching for ways of capturing and storing energy.

Recently a group of mechanical engineers released a paper to Nature Scientific Reports that shows the little cell shapes that we typically think of as batteries could be broken down into their component structures and rendered liquid, allowing them to be applied to any surface and still work with the same efficacy that can be seen in our standard rechargeable batteries.

This liquifying process could make it so that batteries do not have to hold a particular shape or be a particular size. It could make them fully malleable and permit them to adhere to objects – such as solar panels – helping to resolve the problem of energy storage that has plagued many kinds of renewable energy.

The typical design of a standard Li-Ion battery has been to layer the various battery components – electrodes, separator, current and electrolyte collectors – into a cylindrical or rectangular body, usually composed of a leak-proof casing to help contain the energy that is produced when the battery is charged. The design is solid, but can be awkward in a day in age when power-hungry devices are becoming smaller and smaller, with sleek designs that often don’t lend themselves to a large battery attachment.

Engineers from Rice University in the American state of Texas began experimenting with rechargeable Li-Ion batteries that used a different layering process in an attempt to achieve the same effect. Rather than wrapping the layers into a tightly wound mass, they spread them out over a surface after liquefying each individual part. They used a cathode, two current collectors, and a separator. All these items were put into a polymer-based paint which has both excellent conductivity as well as a porous layer, which can also be found in standard Li-Ion batteries.

This layered paint method was put onto a multitude of surfaces to determine if it was viable for a variety of applications. They put it on flexible polymer sheets, ceramic tiles, glass, and stainless steel, all of which performed as well as the normal versions of the batteries. They even managed to create an effective battery out of a coffee mug. There is currently no report on how good coffee from the mug tasted.

These spray-on batteries worked just as well as your standard rechargeable, and the team claims that they are working on a way of creating different kinds of batteries to accommodate other devices – such as those that need different chemical attributes or have a higher drain rate. They believe this can be done by simply changing the nozzles on the spray applicators.

The ultimate goal of these batteries is to help create a series of stackable blocks that could be painted and then combined for large-scale power storage that would allow energy to be safely and efficiently stored for use with solar-panel and wind grids.

Currently the batteries are mostly stable, but the high toxicity and combustibility of Li-Ion batteries is still an issue and further testing is required before batteries can truly be made out of nothing more than efficient paint layering, but when they can make a mug hold a charge, there is a very bright future indeed for this technology.

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