A really interesting story caught my eye last week. Maybe it’s my inner geek, but this story was so exciting I have to share.
Turns out some grad student researchers at Rice University (it’s always the grad students doing the real work) developed a technique to build batteries using a spray paint technique. The atomized the components required for a Lithium-ion battery (typically used in high performance portable electronics like cell phones and tablet computers) and developed a technique of spraying the battery onto various surfaces in layers.
The implications of this technique are pretty impressive. Obviously this could make the manufacturing process a lot cheaper, but if you look beyond that some other advantages come up. The batteries don’t have to be in the cylinder or rectangular form typical of batteries. This could go a long way toward further thinning portable electronics. (Granted, that may not be an entirely good thing. My iPod is already so thin it’s easy to drop.) The research team also found that it worked on any surface that the paint would adhere on, including a beer mug. If you combine this with advances in printable circuits and spray on solar cells the possibilities are really endless. I can envision my iPhone where my protective case has a spray on battery and solar cell on the back for theoretically endless battery life.
Suddenly I’ve gone and disturbed myself. Any new technology has good and bad implications, but it seems like the bad implications are nearly always linked to more invasive marketing. I just had a vision of a bar full of patrons drinking from beer steins with neon advertisements. Those porn solicitors that line the streets in Las Vegas could easily go high tech and add blinking lights and color to their flyers.
The tech has a long way to go before it’s really implementable in a practical sense though. Applying the paint requires a temperature and humidity controlled environment. Also, some of the materials are toxic, which is Not A Good Thing when dealing with an aerosol. But now that the concept has been proven you can bet that lots of companys will be throwing money at it ASAP. Ultimately it may be possible to get ‘battery in a can’ at the local box store in a few years.
The photo is part of the published report at Nature.com and used under a Creative Commons license.