The familiar button battery is the workhorse of small electronics. While it is likely to continue to power our existing watches and calculators for a little while, it has become the limiting factor for many key design points of these devices. Like a shipping container in a world of instant messaging, it has no future. One company, Imprint Energy, has assembled the total assault package which might sound the death knell — a rechargeable, flexible, customizable, and printable battery that is cheaper, safer and more powerful.
The key technology developed by Imprint Energy is a polymer electrolyte that allows zinc-based batteries to be recharged. It prevents the formation of fingers which typically bridge across typical liquid electrolytes over time and make charging impossible. The flexible and customizable zinc anode, electrolyte, and metal oxide cathode of the battery are printed in the form of electrochemical inks. The printing process is similar to old-fashioned silk-screening where material is deposited in a pattern by squeezing it through a mesh over a template. While this screen printing is different from what we tend to think of nowadays as3D printing, the use of inkjets and other technologies are driving new convergent, hybrid techniques.