Battery technology is evolving at an unprecedented pace to sync up with the increasing expectations of a mobile workforce in an always-on environment besides meeting the emerging industrial demand. On the industrial front, major R&D initiatives are underway to develop batteries that efficiently support smart-grids powered by alternative sources like solar and wind energy. For years, batteries have been used for automotive transportation, aerospace endeavors, robotics, to name a few. Today, there is renewed drive towards promoting battery technology keeping in view its 'green' characteristics.
The thrust on battery technology has also intensified with increasing demand for computing and mobile devices. To keep up with the lifestyle demands, researchers are developing consumer batteries that can be charged within seconds. And, when that happens, a whole range of power-hogging mobile applications like full-screen video will find new markets.
At the same time R&D is being directed at developing new forms of batteries that will have a significant bearing on industrial and consumer device design and manufacturing. Take the case of the recently publicized 'spray-on battery' design, conceived by Rice University in Houston.
The novel spray-on liquid can be applied on a variety of surfaces like ceramic, glass and steel -- much like spray painting -- producing chargeable batteries just half a millimeter thick, that are transparent, lighter than glass and shatter-proof. With these properties, the sprayed-on battery lends itself to design aesthetics of devices and appliances. Using an air-brush the battery can be sprayed on in five layers containing two current collectors sandwich, a cathode, a polymer separator and an anode – the basic elements of a lithium ion battery.
At this stage, the technology is ready only for industrial use as the spray will be effective only in a moisture- and oxygen-free environment and will need a surface that is heated well above the boiling point of water. The 'paintable' battery itself would have to be about 1.5 sq. ft in size to carry the same charge as a mobile phone battery. However, it won't be long before the materials are tweaked to allow it to be mass-produced for commercial and household use at an affordable price.
Mainstreaming the new concept will liberate device designers from the constraints of today's battery shapes – making way for slimmer gadgets, and consumer goods with built-in power supplies. It can also make solar gadgets practical by building up their energy storage.
Battery technology is advancing at a rapid pace. To cite another example, Stanford scientists are using nanotechnology to create ultra-lightweight, bendable batteries and super capacitors utilizing paper. Sheets of paper coated with an ink of carbon nanotubes and silver nanowires become batteries for everyday use. Elsewhere, scientists have also developed microbial fuels cells (MFCs) that run on bacteria.
Today, as battery assumes myriad forms and finds new applications, the industry will also have to deal with the challenge of recycling batteries on a war-footing, given the environmental impact of decaying batteries.