One of the primary factors holding back the development of truly next-generation devices is battery technology. Yes, the lithium-ion power modules that energize most of our current flock of gadgets are fairly small and reliable. But they still take up a relatively large amount of space in our devices, and often dictate the form factor to a certain degree. Fortunately, scientists at Rice University in Texas have developed an interesting solution: spray-on batteries.
The new rechargeable battery technology consists of five separate paints, each of which make up a component of a standard lithium-ion battery: a pair of current collectors, cathode, anode, and an insulating polymer. The paints can then be sprayed on to a surface in a particular order, thus creating the battery.
As Pulickel Ajayan, head of the Rice research team, tells Reuters, the development of this battery technology “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.” No longer will devices have to conform to accommodate restrictive batteries.
Of course, just-invented technology like this remains far away from consumer use. For the battery spray paint to work, it must dry in an moisture- and oxygen-free environment, on a surface that’s heated well above the boiling point of water. Furthermore, a paintable battery would have to be about 1.5 square feet in size to carry the same charge as a mobile phone battery. According to New Scientist, these two limitations (as well as some environmental factors) make it impossible for this technology to be used in the home — at least for the moment.
Neelam Singh, one of the Rice researchers involved in the project, says they will work to reduce the size of the paint needed to hold a meaningful charge, and hope to make their creation more user friendly. Singh tells New Scientist that he hopes to one day pair the spray-on battery with paintable solar cells, to create the next generation of home electrical systems. When exactly such a thing will be possible, well, we’ll just have to be patient.
All is not lost in the relative short-term, however; it’s possible that device manufacturers will be able to use the batter paint in smartphones and other consumer electronics before people can use the paint themselves. Here’s to hoping that time comes sooner rather than later.
Update: Video added