Flexible Battery Research Generates Results

A research team has created flexible batteries to power emerging technologies that could become mainstream in the next five or six years.

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Researchers have discovered a way to make flexible batteries that could power electronic device displays in the coming years.

A research team from the New Jersey Institute of Technology created a flexible battery made out of carbon nanotubes and micro-particles. These batteries could provide energy for electronic devices that have flexible displays, which means these devices can be folded up and transported easily, said Somenath Mitra, the professor of chemistry and environmental science who designed the batteries with Zhiqian Wang, a doctoral student in chemistry.

Several recent reports from the New Media Consortium suggest that flexible displays made of pliable plastics — technically called organic light emitting diode displays — could become mainstream in four to five years. And they'll need batteries that will bend with them, Mitra said.

These batteries have numerous applications, from the consumer to the military space.

"I drive a hybrid, so we have a very small trunk because there are stacks of batteries," Mitra said. "If we could make them flexible, then we could roll it up into a little carpet, and there would be your battery."

This flexible battery is made of carbon nanotubes and micro-particles. A kit with electrode paste and a laminating machine is all anyone would need to make it at home. / Photo by Jed Medina, NJIT

They could also be worn as patches on soldiers' uniforms. The Army provided some funding for this project because it was interested in military applications for the batteries, Mitra said.

In an educational setting, these batteries would make interesting high school experiments, he said. Students can create them by laying down layers of material, slamming them together and rolling them up. He would like to create kits of electrode paste and a laminating machine so others can make batteries, but he doesn't have the funding to do so.

The batteries also have potential as an alternate power source in the wake of natural disasters and in countries without reliable infrastructure, Mitra said. After Hurricane Sandy's landfall in New Jersey last year, Mitra and many others were without power for a week or more.

As a researcher, he's looking to innovate and invent on the edge of what's possible. And with these batteries, he hopes to give others a way to deliver energy more efficiently.

"We are always trying to push the edge, we are trying to get to the next frontier, and batteries and energy are very important things right now," he said.

Tanya Roscorla Managing Editor

Tanya Roscorla covers ed tech behind the scenes and on the legislative agenda. Likes: Culinary experiments, travel adventures, beautiful landscapes.