Researchers Develop Prototype Flexible Smartwatch Battery

If you are one of the tens of thousands of purchasers of wearable smartwatches, you already know that one of the biggest gripes customers have is the relatively short battery life of these devices. Well, folks, help appears to be on the way.

Teams of scientists and developers around the world are working on developing flexible solar-powered batteries which will truly help smartwatches realize their full promise. This, in turn, could bolster sales of these consumer devices (which have been less-than-stellar).

Indeed, a team of researchers and scientists from the University of Illinois, Northwest University, South Korea and China have developed a battery which they say is capable of changing its shape to fit in various devices. The components of the battery and solar cells are integrated into a silicone shell and connected by flexible copper-polymer joints. The result is a charging and storage solution that can stretch and bend by 30 percent without losing its ability to generate solar charge.

Flexibile Battery Technology

University Prototype Flexible Battery Technology

In a paper published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the researchers said that the battery cluster could be mounted to your skin and provide enough charge to power a wearable device.

One of the benefits of the design is that it is reasonably modular: At the moment, it mostly focuses on tiny batteries and solar arrays, but it would be possible to integrate processors and sensors into the design, to make the entire wearable self-powered and flexible. The silicon casing also has the benefit of being waterproof.

And in even more portable battery news, device manufacturers of conventional lithium-air cathodes (which are typically made of rigid materials, such as ceramics encased in delicate fiberglass) say they are researching a battery that includes an electrolyte that is conducive to flexing and does not leak out.

With most flexible batteries, this problem often is compounded when oxygen reacts with lithium at the cathode to produce lithium peroxide, a solid that builds up and pushes out the electrolyte, killing the battery cell.

To solve these problems, materials scientist Xinbo Zhang and a team of engineers at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing, revamped the way they made their cells. Rather than placing their electrodes side by side, as in a car battery, they arranged them in concentric layers, like a coaxial cable.

At the core of the cable in this case is a flexible wire of bare lithium metal. But in place of the liquid electrolyte, Zhang and colleagues fashioned its electrolyte from a pliable polymer gel. Then they substituted the normally rigid cathode material with a fabric-like carbon mesh, which itself was encased with the gel and a spongy nickel foam.

Even with all of these promising battery developments, there’s a long way to go until we see the technology make it to the production lines of these devices. There’s a big difference between developments in far-flung laboratories of universities and mass-market production lines. Still the trend looks promising. Only time will tell.

Onward and Upward,

David Bross
for The Daily Reckoning

P.S. As those subscribers in the United States pause to observe the Memorial Day holiday on Monday, May 30, the editors of Tomorrow in Review wish you a happy, healthy holiday weekend. Your next issue of Tomorrow in Review will be on Wednesday, June 1. We’ll talk with you then.

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