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Scientists demonstrate 'paint-on' batteries

By dpreview staff on Jun 30, 2012 at 01:16 GMT

Scientists in Texas have demonstrated a way of 'painting' rechargeable lithium-ion batteries onto surfaces, greatly expanding the potential for future development of portable electronics. The team, from Rice University, has succeeded in painting batteries onto a range of different surfaces, including common household objects, with 'no surface conditioning'. The batteries are made up of five layers measuring just 0.5mm thick in total and, according to the scientists that developed the technology, can be fabricated using conventional spray-painting equipment and techniques.

This diagram shows a conventional lithium-ion battery on the left, and on the right, a multilayer 'paintable' battery fabricated by spraying the different layers directly onto a target surface. Anode and cathode layers are separated by a specially-developed polymer (image: creative commons via nature.com).

This development - batteries that can be sprayed onto any surface, to follow any contour - has obvious potential for the next generation of portable devices, including tablet computers, smartphones and cameras. The creators of the technology also envisage painted batteries being paired with solar cells, with the potential to create 'standalone energy capture-storage hybrid devices in different configurations'.

You can read more about this new technology at BBC online and you can see the original report at nature.com.

'Spray-on' batteries: our opinion

The movement away from fixed cylindrical or cuboid form-factors for rechargeable batteries makes sense for a number of reasons. Most importantly it gives designers more freedom when creating new electronic devices, by removing the need to 'design around' a large, plastic-encased battery. Instead, the battery can be shaped around - or indeed sprayed onto - the inside surface of the device that it will be powering. The downside, of course, is that at present, rechargeable batteries have a lifespan considerably shorter than the devices that they're designed to power. 

How much longer before a camera's battery and memory is built into the device itself? A 'paintable' battery could be sprayed inside a camera's casing, allowing for more efficient use of interior space, and potentially much more ergonomic designs. 

Already, tablet computers like Apple's iPad and some portable computers are shipping with non user-replaceable batteries glued into the inside of their cases (the iPad's battery accounts for almost a quarter of its total weight). This isn't just a cynical ploy by manufacturers to prevent you from replacing their battery with a cheap third-party alternative, or force you to upgrade to a new model once the battery dies. Non-replaceable batteries with a more flexible form-factor allow their host devices to be slimmer and structurally stronger, and the space inside them to be used more efficiently.

There will probably always be a demand for replaceable batteries in some types of camera, but we would be surprised if 'unibody' designs didn't become more common in photographic hardware, as well as smartphones and tablets, in the years to come.

What do you think? Is this a good thing? Let us know in the comments.

Comments

Total comments: 108
12
brumd
By brumd (Jun 30, 2012)

Interesting developments, and I can see a lot of uses for them, not only for photography.
If these fixed internal batteries mean there is going to be a universal way to charge them, I would really welcome it. My problem with batteries isn't so much the shape, but their incompatability and the fact they all need different chargers.
I do a lot of trekking, carrying 2 camera's, a GPS device and a cell phone, with usually very few opportunities to recharge, and the weight&volume of all the extras I have to carry around to keep them all juiced up I have to take is the limiting factor.

I would love to see a future where every device has its internal power, and that you'd only have to carry one single charger device (solar and/or batteries) that connects to all of them.

0 upvotes
Actrurus
By Actrurus (Jun 30, 2012)

I use a Power Gorilla on all of my wilderness sea-kayaking trips, works really well!!

https://powertraveller.com/iwantsome/primatepower/powergorilla/

0 upvotes
Michael Engelen
By Michael Engelen (Jun 30, 2012)

agree completely

0 upvotes
limlh
By limlh (Jun 30, 2012)

Non replaceable battery will not work for camera simply because when the battery is exhausted, you have no choice but to stop taking photos until the battery is charged up again, unless you have a spare camera. But replaceable battery using the new tech is welcomed though.

3 upvotes
Peiasdf
By Peiasdf (Jun 30, 2012)

How is the modern lithium-ion polymer battery made? Not cells I think but layers of something that can form complex shapes.

1 upvote
qwertyasdf
By qwertyasdf (Jun 30, 2012)

I never had problems with electronics that have replaceable batteries.
The validity of non-replaceable batteries is only justified in Job's reality distortion field. But then Apple products is heavily biased towards design.
I don't see why so many phones / tablets now have non-replaceable batteries. I do not appreciate the fact that companies are copying Apple for the sake of copying.

YES, unibody designs give better structural integrity. Yet I NEVER saw a device with replaceable battery break into half. The structure simply will never be the weak point. If a phone / tablet breaks, 99% of them time it's the screen that is broken, regardless of it's structure.

And No, this is useless to camera makers, cameras are meant to be kind of blocky, and batteries are meant to be replaced.

This is a great technology, I'm waiting to see it being used in iPaper, or better yet, the iWallpaper

6 upvotes
Peiasdf
By Peiasdf (Jun 30, 2012)

When a non-replaceable battery out last two to three replaceable batteries while weights less than one, it makes sense.

3 upvotes
qwertyasdf
By qwertyasdf (Jun 30, 2012)

Re Peiasdf,

Sure if there are major advances of charge cycles of recharables, this technology would make a lot of sense!

0 upvotes
xtoph
By xtoph (Jun 30, 2012)

glad you've never had problems, but i've personally had two phones i have to tape together because the battery won't stay in, and one laptop with a similar problem (battery drops out). i've seen dozens of other people's phones with the same problem. the problem isn't marketing bs, it is real.

and peiasdf's comment isn't a 'what if', it applies to current apple devices. the battery tech is one of the major innovations of the air and ipad.

if you need additional power, there are plenty of external battery slabs for your laptop or phone in whatever size and charge capacity you desire. no different from carrying spare batteries around.

i suspect the current innovation it will not be useless to camera makers, either.

2 upvotes
mandm
By mandm (Jun 30, 2012)

The panels/casing of a product could be the battery.

2 upvotes
reality_check
By reality_check (Jun 30, 2012)

GREAT IDEA!

0 upvotes
reality_check
By reality_check (Jun 30, 2012)

A removable door ?

0 upvotes
lylejk
By lylejk (Jun 30, 2012)

Harry Potter/ Minority Report magazine's one step closer to reality. :)

0 upvotes
James Wages
By James Wages (Jun 30, 2012)

Practically speaking, most batteries last about 3 years. If this technology is no different, then I don't see the consumer merits, unless the end product becomes substantially cheaper to make it worthwhile to upgrade every 3 years. But even if that is true, such increase waste/refuse. And no matter how Eco-friendly the manufacturer claims it to be, no product is 100% recyclable.

I like the concept for non "pro" equipment, but it's far more practical if they can get 7 to 10 years (or more) from the battery. In this day and age, not all consumers want or have the monetary means to swap out hardware more frequently, myself included.

2 upvotes
MarceloSalup
By MarceloSalup (Jun 30, 2012)

Game changer for sure

0 upvotes
Total comments: 108
12