You Tell Us: Power Strip


Engineers are delivering innovations in printable electronic components that will someday allow the elements of an iPod, for instance, to be silk-screened onto a sweater. What will power these gadgets? One possible solution is a printable battery that’s less than a millimeter thick, weighs less than a gram, and has roughly the same footprint as an audiocassette tape. Researchers at the Fraunhofer Research Institution for Electronic Nano Systems and the Chemnitz University of Technology, both in Chemnitz, Germany, have created a production process similar to silk-screening. The paper-thin battery’s zinc anode and manganese cathode are deposited in succession onto a flexible substrate that adheres to paper or fabric using a rubber squeegee to press the materials through a mesh screen.

The main drawback of the design is that the materials, which chemically react to generate current, dissipate fairly quickly, making the battery suited only to applications in which it’s paired with supercheap, disposable electronics meant to last no more than a month or so, like musical greeting cards. Another proposed use is in smart credit cards with displays that show account information and provide added security. Other tiny battery ideas we’ve looked at in the past include one using carbon pillars and one exploiting the energy generated by bits of radioactive material. But how many applications will there be for a three-month or even a six-month battery?

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