Guess what? Batteries are now printable!
Ultra-thin batteries are coming - supported by Solvay Ventures
By developing thin, flexible and printable batteries, California-based startup Imprint Energy aims to power a new generation of devices, from IoT sensors to smart labels, wearables and displays. The company, a Solvay Ventures partner, is led by CEO & Co-Founder Christine Ho; she explains its history, vision and mission.
How did Imprint Energy come to be?
I majored in Materials Science at UC Berkeley, and through the postgraduate researcher I was assisting, I became interested in solving some of the problems we have with batteries today.
I dedicated my time and life to this subject, and completed my PhD focusing on questions such as: how do we democratize manufacturing so that it doesn’t have to be one gigafactory in a low labor region? How do we come up with a technology that’s accessible to all? I started to look at zinc as a chemistry because it's inherently safe, stable, and non-toxic.
How did you come up with the idea of printable batteries?
Since most batteries are an assembly of flat modules, we thought, why not make them even flatter so we can print them? So we started looking into new materials and concepts that could enable us to print safe batteries in every shape and every size. That’s how Imprint Energy was founded.
Designing safe and thin Printed Batteries for high volume IoT applications - Christine Ho (Imprint)
@The Things Conference in San Francisco - Jan 2020
So how exactly are they printed?
We use screen printing, the same printers you would use to print art on a t-shirt, with a frame and a mesh. Where the holes are open, ink passes through. Batteries look like sandwiches, right? So you print one layer, dry it, print the next layer on top of that and kind of build up a sandwich that way. What's nice with the screen printing is you can print a triangle or a happy face, the shape doesn't matter. That gives you a lot of design flexibility.
What is your main objective?
I'm hoping that product designers begin to incorporate us into designs because our battery is better, safer and greener. We've had great traction with early customers, and have shipped over 100,000 batteries so far. We're also starting to work on other products: smart labels and patches, for example.
Can you give us some examples of products that use these batteries?
Because our battery is thin and flexible, it can be applied as a label. For example, on cartons containing Covid-19 vaccines, to power sensors for temperature and protection against tampering. They are also applied in pharma drugs, blood bags, prosthetics - items that are of high value and need to be kept track of. The other applications are continuous glucose patches, health monitors and so forth. These are really compact devices where a lot of electronics have to be living side by side, including the battery.
Are your batteries sustainable?
They have a very small carbon footprint and a very green chemistry. We think of it very much as a green or clean technology.