3D-printed, flexible, wearable battery could be a phone’s lifesaver

24 Oct 2017

Image: Alex_Traksel/Shutterstock

Using a 3D printer, researchers have, for the first time, forged a flexible, wearable battery that could see us ditch clunky power packs.

Electronics and 3D printing are merging to create a flexible and wearable battery – the first of its kind and, more importantly, very affordable.

The breakthrough was made by materials science researchers at Brunel University London, who in a paper detailed how they were able to stack silicone, glue and gel electrolyte pastes – similar to a layer cake – to make what looks like a clear festival wristband.

Sandwiched inside this small item is a supercapacitor that stores energy like a battery, but on its surface and without chemical reactions.

“This is the first time a flexible supercapacitor including all its components has been produced by 3D printing,” said Milad Areir, one of the team members.

“The most popular way to produce them is screen printing, but with that you can’t print the frame of the supercapacitor on silicone.”

Can be made from cheap household products

This new process improves upon previous attempts to make a wearable battery, which were often prohibitively expensive because they used different machines to make different parts.

In this new system, everything is made by one single 3D printer using cheap products from a household shop instead of sophisticated expensive metals or semiconductors.

All that is needed is a simple open-source printer connected by USB to a syringe driver with a stopper motor. This can print the paste layers, with only three or four syringes based on the size of the supercapacitor.

The wristbands themselves are printed in a honeycomb pattern, which means less material needs printing, so they are quicker to make and can be made into more complex shapes if necessary.

Looking to the future, Areir sees it replacing the clunky battery packs of today that are used for charging mobile phones on the go.

“For example, if the phone battery is dead, you could plug the phone into the supercapacitor wristband and it could act as a booster pack, providing enough power to get to the next charging point.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic