24 August 2012

Spray-on Batteries

Batteries from Warren's drawer.
Welcome back. To those who exclaimed “Yeccchh!” when reading my blog post on snail power, I offer this peek at research being conducted at Rice University, in Houston. You know those rechargeable lithium-ion batteries in mobile phones and laptops? Well, instead of rectangular or cylindrical batteries, the Rice team has come up with a way to paint those batteries on.

It’s research and there’s a lot to do; but in the not too distant future, we could be buying spray-paintable batteries. That’s almost as cool as electrifying snails.

What Have They Done?

The Rice researchers formulated five paints that would function as the five elements of a battery--the positive and negative current collectors, cathode and anode, and polymer separator. For example, the positive current collector paint is a mixture of purified single-wall carbon nanotubes with carbon black particles dispersed in N-methylpyrrolidone. OK, so maybe you don’t need examples.

The team then produced batteries by airbrushing each paint as a separate layer, in the proper order, onto different test surfaces--ceramic tiles, flexible polymers, glass, stainless steel and even the curved surface of a ceramic beer stein. The results were the same with all surfaces.

Success was demonstrated to the world by connecting (in parallel) nine tile-based batteries. After charging, the batteries powered 40 light-emitting diodes (LEDs), arranged to spell out the university name, “RICE,” for six hours. The batteries provided a steady 2.4 volts.

The lead researcher forecasts advancing from hand- to spray-painted batteries. As if that weren’t enough to think about, one of the nine tiles was topped with a solar cell that converted power from a light to help charge the batteries. Integrating a paintable battery with a solar cell--a paintable solar cell--to both harvest and store energy would really expand the possibilities.


The technology could impact a wide range of applications beyond consumer electronic devices. One possibility mentioned by the lead researcher was turning a home into a battery. I suppose, if given the choice, you’d rather power your house with special paints than with thousands of electrified snails.

How about electric cars? Reducing the weight of the car’s battery pack is a major challenge. Or, since I’m on cars, how about roadside billboards?

I’d seen traffic message signs, but the first time I was captivated by electronic LED billboards was last month, driving back from Wisconsin. How exciting to watch the colorful advertisements change every 6 to 8 seconds! It’s a shame the law prevents them from scrolling or flashing.

Wrap Up

Researchers addressing this technology and its applications will go for the important stuff. It would be nice if someone would work on the less important stuff. For example, you can buy light-up products, like t-shirt logos; some are even sound-activated. I’d like my logo to say, “Kiss Me and I Glow.” Instead of responding to sound, it should light up whenever I get lucky. If that’s too technologically challenging, I’d accept “Hug Me and I Glow.”

Thanks for stopping by.


Rice University write up (with video) on the research:
Innovation News Daily article on the topic. (Don’t be surprised if you have to answer an innocuous question or two to see the whole article.)

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