Remember when the most exciting thing about batteries was being able to press your finger on a little pad and they’d tell you how much life they had left? Those days are well in the past with the latest in battery tech nothing short of mind-blowing.
Scientists from the Texas A&M University (one of the most prestigious research colleges in the States) are developing an energised liquid that can be sprayed on your clothes, your car and pretty much anything else you feel like it’d be worth making into a battery.
With endless potential applications, the scientists are working, not just on making the spray a reality, but on making it everything-proof. They can see a need for it to be able to withstand washing, heat, the mouths of toddlers and even bullets.
Speaking to the World Economic Forum, head scientist on the project, Jodie Lutkenhaus, explained they’ve already worked out the hard part: taking the polymer, metal and electrodes that make up a lithium-ion battery and turning them into a sprayable liquid. Layer by layer, they’ve been able to graffiti all sorts of objects with their spray-on batteries.
“All you need is two connectors and you’re plugged in.”
What do you do with a spray on battery?
Once they’ve everything-proofed their batteries and troubleshot all the kinks and bugs, the possible applications are phenomenal. Imagine having work clothes that have built in heating for winter and cooling for summer. Or pacemakers that have a lightweight, comfortable and reliable battery unit rather than the clunky cells that need monitoring and recharging.
Then there’s the bulletproof part of the equation. According to Lutkenhaus, the average soldier in the US army has to lug around about 20lb of batteries in their gear. Ditching this extra weight would have obvious benefits in comfort and, therefore, efficiency. And this is why Lutkenhaus and her team are so focussed on making the spray-on batteries robust. Testing for battlefield fortitude is one of the team’s favourite perks of being a scientist.
“We took the batteries out to a range and shot them all up. This is Texas, after all. And you know what? They held up.”
Along with being able to withstand a Texas shootout, it’s vital for the batteries to be flame resistant and not prone to explosions. Unfortunately, as we’ve seen in a few intense incidents with electric vehicles, batteries can be a bit volatile. Explosions can occur from relatively minor dings or bits of debris hitting the battery.
So it’s vital for scientists to develop strategies to safeguard their supremely useful inventions from being susceptible to such catastrophes.
Other exciting battery tech
Along with super-robust spray-on batteries, Lutkenhaus and her team are working on structural batteries where the charging cell is integrated as a mechanically strong, functional part of the machine its powering. What you’re looking at here is a future in which the roof of your car doubles as a battery; or part of the structure of your tractor or excavator. This would allow a whole host of vehicles to be able to switch over to electric or hybrid power, saving on fuel consumption, carbon emissions, and resultant environmental damage.
The structural nature of the batteries would also make them more efficient and could be integrated with solar arrays to allow the machines to work longer without the need to recharge or refuel. Her words tickled by excitement, Lutkenhaus concluded:
“I expect these new battery formats to be improving transport, healthcare, the military — life in general — within the next five years.”