Friday, 9 May 2014

Paper Batteries: The Next Generation of Mobile Power?

Imagine having to replace the battery in your mobile phone with a small strip that is no thicker than the average piece of paper.  Over the years, we have heard many ideas about how to create powerful batteries with ultra-small footprints; too many ideas, in fact.  Now it appears that we are on the verge of seeing one of these unique ideas come to fruition.

EDN Network's Steve Taranovich recently reported on an American company developing an ultra-thin battery composed of electrodes, current collectors and an electrolyte – all housed in a thin strip of paper.  The company, known as the Paper Battery Company, has already managed to design and build a prototype that works as advertised.  The prototype is a long way from commercial production at this point, but they have proven the concept is workable.

For any battery to work properly it needs three things: a storage medium, an electrolyte to carry ions through the system and electrodes (anodes/cathodes) to complete the electrical circuit.  Limited materials and technology has meant that the oldest batteries were extremely large in relation to their intended uses.  As technology has advanced, all of these elements have become smaller and smaller.

In the case of the paper battery, the developers managed to use a specific type of paper that also acts as the electrolyte.  That is significant in terms of reducing the size.  The electrodes are made of carbon nano-tubes or graphene and kept separated from one another by the paper.  Energy collection and storage is accomplished with something as simple as aluminium foil.

The advantages of this type of battery are numerous.  First of all, a paper battery would be extremely simple to manufacture in large roles that could be cut to size for specific uses.  This leads to the second obvious benefit: paper batteries would be extremely cost-effective.  Finally, these would be environmentally friendly in terms of both production and disposal.  Remember that paper batteries would not contain the heavy metals we find in most modern batteries.

Not New, But Still Exciting


Taranovich explained in his piece that what the Paper Battery Company has accomplished is not necessarily new, although it is exciting.  Other projects have also been undertaken at Purdue University in the US and Portugal's New University in Lisbon.  In both cases, the designs were slightly different modifications of the same principle:  using specially produced paper as both the battery housing and the electrolyte.

We will be keeping our eyes out for a detailed publication explaining what the future might hold for paper batteries.  In the meantime, just thinking about the possibilities is pretty exciting.  Imagine what a paper battery could do for mobile communications by reducing the amount of space a mobile device needed for power storage.  It could make for larger processors, larger video cards, or even devices that are smaller overall.

Indeed, it's great to be part of the world of modern technology.  We cannot wait for the future to get here.



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