Imagine a battery printed on your T-shirt, a Kansas State Wildcat or Missouri Tiger that was stretchy and rechargeable and would power up when you take a walk on a sunny day. The eyes of the cats might be lit by that battery.
Engineers specializing in nanotechnology at the University of California San Diego published a paper recently demonstrating the first printed battery that can both stretch and take a recharge.
Published in Advanced Energy Materials, their paper shows how ingredients from polystyrene, the stuff of Styrofoam, and rubber can be combined to create a stretchable material capable of acting as a battery.
The development could have applications for the growing market of wearable electronics that track your daily step count or for medical products that monitor a heartbeat or glucose levels.
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“Unlike their brittle and rigid predecessors, soft electronics can intimately integrate with” flexible surfaces, the authors of the paper wrote.
“We report the ﬁrst all-printed stretchable zinc-silver oxide (Zn-Ag2O) rechargeable battery using low-cost screen printing of highly elastic, conductive inks,” wrote the team, including lead author Rajan Kumar from the Department of Nanoengineering at UCSD.
The team has started small. It would take five of its prototypes to power a single hearing aid battery. But it’s barely thicker than most graphics printed on a T-shirt, it comes from relatively cheap and widely available commercial materials, and one day it might be self-powered — either by solar cells or by capturing the motion of the user.
Key to the development was figuring out a way to bond the materials in the battery so that they would hold together when stretched rather than tearing apart.
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