A key to developing a new generation of slick and slim cell phones or portable gadgets is to create just as slim and flexible, but also powerful batteries. Imprint Energy, a small lab based at the University of California is planning to develop this ever-so-needed power source.
The technology will use zinc, instead of lithium. As explained by Devin MacKenzie, the CEO of Imprint Energy, the reason is that standard lithium batteries are very difficult to make in a small, flexible and at the same time energy-dense and cheap form, mainly due to the packaging.
Funded by Dow Chemical and CIA fund In-Q-Tel, the technology will use zinc for the anode part of the battery, combined with a solid polymer electrolyte and a metal oxide cathode.
The zinc ions move between the anode and the cathode through the electrolyte between them, creating the chemical reaction, which allows harvesting of the electrons. Until now, the real problem with using zinc in batteries has been to make them rechargeable, due to the formation of dendrites, which prevent the charging reaction. In order to solve this, Imprint Energy bets on the use of solid polymer in combination with zinc in their electrolyte.
Because zinc is not reactive with the environment, batteries made of this chemical do not require packaging, which means they can be made as thin as desired. In addition, these batteries would be much less toxic, making the devices much safer to use.
Imprint Energy also used screen printing technology to print the batteries, allowing custom shapes of the energy storage device.
The company is aiming to scale up the manufacturing of the technology in the next few years, aiming at the electronics market both for customers and the health sector.
The guys at Imprint Energy are convinced that zinc poly batteries will set in motion the production process of more functional and practical devices, which have the potential to completely change the way wearable industry looks now.