What are Flexible Batteries?

We are accustomed to thinking of batteries as heavy and chunky implements capable of storing energy and powering electronic devices. For long, use-and-throw carbon-zinc batteries along with rechargeable Lead-acid and Nickel-Cadmium batteries dominated.

With the advent of portable devices such as netbooks, ultrabooks, and other hand-held devices, the battery market exploded with various types, of which, the most popular was the Lithium-ion rechargeable battery. However, with electronic gadgets getting slimmer and flexible, it is now necessary for the battery also to shed its rigid form and embrace the curves of the gadget – hence, the market for thin-film flexible battery.

In their new report, market watcher IDTechEx predicts that by 2026, the presently tiny market for thin-film batteries is going to hit $470 million. According to Xiaoxi He, a technology analyst with IDTechEx, this is the reason companies such as TDK, STMicroelectronics, LG, Samsung, Apple, and many others are all becoming increasingly involved. Considering the rate at which the Internet of Things, wearables, and other environmental sensors are being increasingly deployed, replacing traditional battery technologies is becoming imperative. New form factors and designs are urgently required.

For instance, Samsung has a curved battery in their Gear Fit wristband. STMicroelectronics is producing, in limited quantities, thin-film solid-state lithium batteries. Two other companies are now producing printed batteries, according to the report. Therefore, the market now has a variety of flexible batteries vying to power several kinds of devices.

Other companies are trying other strategies as well. For instance, TDK is working on battery-free energy harvesters. The idea is since IoT nodes and wearable devices require extremely low power to operate, these can be operated via energy harvesters rather than batteries. Others such as in South Korea have gone ahead and now TDK is planning to invest heavily in the fiscal years of 2016 and 2017 to ramp up their production of lithium-ion batteries to match.

Other companies such as the Oakridge Global Energy Solutions Inc., plan to ramp up their production capacity in their Brevard County plant at Florida. They will make electrodes and cells for thin-film, solid-state lithium batteries. They acquired this technology in 2002 from Oak Ridge Micro-Energy Inc., and plan to start volume manufacturing in early 2017.

Large varieties of flexible batteries are soon going to be available in the market. Among these will be thin-film batteries, printed batteries, laminar lithium-polymer batteries, micro-batteries, advanced lithium-ion batteries, thin flexible supercapacitors, and stretchable batteries.

Understandably, they will have diverse uses.

For instance, wearables are expected to have the highest potential of high-energy thin-film batteries, followed by printed rechargeable zinc batteries. Printed batteries, in the form of skin patches are already in use in the healthcare industry and the market is steadily increasing. At present, the high cost of printed zinc batteries is preventing widespread use despite having the highest potential for this application. According to the IDTechEx report, there will be rapid expansion in the market for micro-power batteries powering disposable medical devices.

There are additional requirements for batteries to power diverse types of power sources, displays, and flexible sensors. The US Department of Defense has invested $75 million for creating the Flexible Hybrid Electronics Manufacturing Institute in San Jose.