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Tuesday, February 18, 2020

This new stretchable battery can power wearable electronics more securely

Stanford researchers have developed an experimental device that promises to provide a safe and comfortable power source for technologies that must bend and flex with our bodies.

By: Tech Desk | New Delhi | Updated: January 27, 2020 1:52:12 pm
stretchable battery, flexible battery, wearable gadgets, wearable electronic device, battery on wearable devices The experimental device promises to provide a safe and comfortable power source for bendable wearable devices. (Representational Image)

In a recent development, Stanford researchers have developed a soft and stretchable battery that could allow wearable electronic gadgets to be more innovative as they break free from their dependency to draw power from bulky and rigid batteries. The new battery “relies on a special type of plastic to store power more safely than the flammable formulations used in conventional batteries today,” the researchers said in a press release.

As we are moving towards the future, electronic gadgets are becoming a part of our daily life. Sometimes these devices rest in our pocket, sometimes these are found on our wrists, and sometimes these are sewed into our clothing. The use of these wearable gadgets is limited by their need to derive power from bulky, rigid batteries that reduce comfort. Researchers say that these power sources may also present safety hazards due to chemical leakage or combustion, that is why they have developed a stretchable power source that relies on a special polymer.

“Until now we haven’t had a power source that could stretch and bend the way our bodies do so that we can design electronics that people can comfortably wear,” said chemical engineer Zhenan Bao, who teamed up with materials scientist Yi Cui to develop the device they described earlier in Nature Communications.

One potential application for such a device would be to power stretchable sensors designed to stick to the skin to monitor heart rate and other vital signs as part of the BodyNet wearable technology being developed in Bao’s lab, the press release said.

How the stretchable battery is different from conventional one

Even though the use of plastics or polymers in lithium-ion batteries is not new, it has been only used as electrolytes– the energy source that transports negative ions to the battery’s positive pole. Those polymer electrolytes have been flowable gels that could, in some cases, leak or burst into flame, the press release said.

To avoid such risks, the researchers developed a polymer that is solid and stretchable rather than gooey and potentially leaky. Still, the new polymer is able to carry the electric charge between the battery’s poles. According to the research team, the experimental battery maintained a constant power output even when squeezed, folded and stretched to nearly twice its original length, in their lab test.

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However, the thumbnail-sized prototype stores roughly half as much energy, ounce for ounce, as a comparably sized conventional battery. The researchers are working to increase the stretchable battery’s energy density, build larger versions of the device and run future experiments to demonstrate its performance outside the lab.

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