In this current era of the “Internet of Things,” where more devices than ever before are becoming smart and connected, so too has the need for innovative batteries to power these smart devices. Recently, a group of researchers from the University of British Columbia has created a battery which is not only flexible and stretchable, but can even be run through a washing machine.
This new battery is composed of zinc and manganese dioxide. Normally, a battery has hard materials inside encased in a rigid exterior. In order to achieve the flexible and stretchable qualities that were desired, the team ground the battery compounds into small pieces and embedded them within a type of rubbery plastic polymer. Inside this new battery, several layers of this stretchy material are covered by an airtight and waterproof, yet stretchy, case of this same polymer. In this way, both the interior and exterior of the battery achieve a combination of flexibility and waterproofness never achieved before in battery technology.
As a test of the waterproofness of this new battery, the research team even went so far as to run the battery through 39 washing machine cycles, to show its durability both in residential and commercial-grade washers. Each time the battery came through the wash cycle still intact and functional. The researchers chose zinc and manganese dioxide as the chemical compounds within the battery because unlike lithium-ion batteries, which can prove toxic if they break, the zinc and manganese dioxide formulation is much safer for use near the skin.
The market and application for such battery technology is wide open at the moment. Powering watches, patches that measure vital signs, even clothing that can change color and temperature are just some of the currently envisioned uses for such flexible battery technology. However, the future will undoubtedly bring new applications, yet to be conceived. Also promising for the new battery technology is its relatively low cost. Eventually, when large-scale production for the consumer market takes place, the researchers expect costs similar to rechargeable batteries already available.