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Spray-painted batteries offer flexibility

10 Jul 2012

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A team of researchers at Rice University has created a rechargeable Li-ion battery that claims to allow for a much more flexible approach to battery design, form factor and integration. The researchers airbrushed the materials onto ceramic bathroom tiles, flexible polymers, glass, stainless steel and a beer stein to see how well they would bond with each substrate.

Lead researcher Neelam Singh, a Rice graduate student, and her team, formulated, mixed and tested paints for each of the five layered components, with two current collectors, a cathode, an anode and a polymer separator in the middle.

Nine bathroom tile-based batteries were connected in parallel, with one also holding a solar cell that converted white laboratory light into power in order to charge the batteries. The batteries were also charged by house current.

When fully charged by both the solar panel and house current, the batteries alone powered a set of LEDs for six hours, providing a steady 2.4V.

The batteries were very consistent in their capacities, providing ±10 percent of the target. They were through 60 charge-discharge cycles with only a very small drop in capacity.

The layers were:

The positive current collector: a mixture of purified single-wall carbon nanotubes with carbon black particles dispersed in N-methylpyrrolidone.

The cathode: containing lithium cobalt oxide, carbon and ultrafine graphite (UFG) powder in a binder solution.

The polymer separator: Kynar Flex resin, PMMA and silicon dioxide dispersed in a solvent mixture.

The anode: a mixture of lithium titanium oxide and UFG in a binder.

The negative current collector: a commercially available conductive copper paint, diluted with ethanol.

Since the batteries can be easily charged with small solar cells, it might be possible to integrate the paintable batteries with paintable solar cells to create a flexible energy-harvesting combination.

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