A startup company called Imprint Energy has been working with research from the University of California to develop a rechargeable zinc battery that could potentially revolutionize the world of technology.
Say goodbye to bulky cell phones, or cell phones that sacrifice battery life for slimness. Imagine if a watch that counts calories while also tracking the distance of a run could actually fit on a finger instead of a wrist.
If Imprint Energy, a small California startup, can come through with a rechargeable zinc battery, that may all be possible one day. The company is already creating flexible, thin and low-cost zinc batteries for a few customers to test.
Lithium ion batteries are not capable of being as thin and pliable as zinc batteries. There’s a lot of extra material needed for a rechargeable lithium ion battery to keep the highly reactive lithium from getting into the environment. This need to protect the battery from leaking also makes them difficult to work with in regards to getting them smaller and more flexible. Even the thinnest technology, like ultrabook laptops and iPads, still struggles with the limitations of the lithium ion battery.
Imprint Energy’s team of eight uses research from the University of California, Berkley and was started by two Berkley PhD students in 2010. There’s nothing new about putting zinc in batteries as it has been used for years, but not in the rechargeable sense. Tiny fibers will grow when zinc is combined with a liquid electrolyte in the recharging process that gets in the way. Imprint Energy uses an electrolyte that is a solid polymer so no such reaction occurs.
With less packaging needed to protect the zinc, tiny batteries no bigger than a few human hairs could be created and used in everyday situations, like checking freshness on food at a grocery store. Zinc batteries are also a lot safer to be used on and inside the body, meaning they could make something like a pacemaker that much safer.
Imprint Energy is currently only producing 100 cells a day, nothing compared to bigger companies. It will likely expand in the next two to three years, however, by either licensing the technology out or working with bigger manufacturers. The goal is to take over the wearables market, such as watches and wrist bands, as well as the health sector, like monitors that can either go inside or outside of the body.