Spray-on batteries to transform any surface into a power source

Researchers at Rice University in Houston have developed a technique to deconstruct each element of the traditional battery into a liquid, which can then be literally spray-painted in layers into any shape, and onto any surface.

The dependable lithium-ion battery powers most of our modern world's electrical doohickeys and digital wuzzle buzzles. That most of us don't think about them is a testament to their durability and ubiquity. However, as we enter the age of 3D printing, nanotechnology and other novel forms of gadgetry, the clunky cylindrical or rectangular battery design becomes limiting. But this may all start to change.

These rechargeable spray-on batteries are constructed from thin liquid layers representing each component of the traditional battery: two current collectors, cathode, anode and polymer separator.

Researchers were able to successfully create power sources from airbrushed ceramics, glass, stainless steel and even on the curved surface of a ceramic mug. A study in the journal Nature Scientific Reports details how the team was able to link nine battery-coated bathroom tiles to each other and power a set of LEDs for six hours, providing a steady 2.4 volts:


Credit: Rice University

"This means traditional packaging for batteries has given way to a much more flexible approach that allows all kinds of new design and integration possibilities for storage devices," commented team leader Pulickel Ajayan to Reuters.

But don't start planning to retrofit your bathtub as a phone recharger quite yet as the technique still has some limitations. Namely, it incorporates difficult-to-handle liquid electrolytes, and it necessitates being constructed in a dry and oxygen-free environment.

Of course, as with any new technology, hurdles will be overcome in time. One could easily see this technique being utilized in the aforementioned worlds of 3D printing and in our ever-shrinking robots. Researcher Neelam Singh commented to Reuters that he specifically forsees this technique being integrated with solar cells to give any surface a stand-alone energy capture and storage capability.

This technique could be a valuable ingredient in transforming every imaginable object into a smart object. No where will be safe from the Internet.

Scientific Reports, via Reuters

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