Flexible electronics developed for health tech wearables have several advantages over rigid devices. Great comfort and stealthiness may also boost patient compliance for continuous monitoring when necessary. Powering flexible wearable tech is challenge, however. Energy-harvesting is one answer to helping wearables disappear into people’s lives, an approach favored by the University of Michigan engineers developing a piezoelectric electro-mechanical device that generates electricity from vibrations. But most devices rely on stored electricity, which usually means rigid rechargeable or replaceable batteries.

Researchers at Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD), Zhengzhou University, and Southern University of Science and Technology recently demonstrated a 3D-printed compressible battery capable of more than 10,000 charging cycles. The battery withstands up to 60% compression. The researchers created a nickel-iron quasi-solid-state material by blending graphene oxide flakes with carbon nanotubes to create a 3D printing ink treating. They treated the printed lattice with nickel sulfate, iron nitrate, iron chloride, and other compounds to create nanocarbon structure and added potassium hydroxide as an electrolyte. At this point, the batteries do not have a commercially-suitable energy density, but the scientists showed the compressible batteries could produce enough energy to light a blue LED. The group published the report of their work so far in ACS Nano. The Singapore-centered team continues to work on compressible battery technology, focusing next on increasing energy density.

It’s interesting to note how new technologies spur developments in crucial enabling technologies. In this case, the pursuit of practically comfortable wearable biometric monitoring devices prompted exploration of a means to provide power with components that support the benefits of wearables without anchoring them to older cumbersome devices.