The world of wearables just got an interesting new innovation with a free-form battery that can be printed on fabric. Researchers at the Korea Institute of Science and Technology (KIST) developed this new lithium battery, the components of which (including its encapsulant, cathode, anode, and current collector) are all printable and stretchable. The applications for this new type of malleable battery appear far-reaching, from fabric for smart clothing and flexible wearables for use in the metaverse to implanted devices, including pacemakers. A battery that’s pliable and soft, similar to human organs and skin, could have enormous potential. 

In creating the battery, KIST researchers looked beyond conventional battery components, such as inorganic electrodes and separators that take up space and offer little in the way of stretchability. Researchers also eschewed the use of rubber over its lack of energy-storing ability. Instead, they developed an organic gel that’s stretchable, soft, with the ability to hold all the battery’s components in place and serve to facilitate ion transport. Adding to the conductivity, researchers created ink that facilitates the transfer of electrons and stands up to both high voltage and deformation. 

To test this new battery, the research team printed current collector material and an electrode onto a spandex arm warmer, coating the components with a malleable encapsulant. With its new stretchable organic battery, the arm warmer was able to power a smartwatch, even under duress. The KIST team reports that the power supply to the smartwatch remained continuous even when the arm warmer was being stretched, put on, and taken off. They say further that the battery continues performing even when stretched by as much as 50% or more. 

Storage of energy plays a big part in the battery’s use going forward. The research team’s leader, Dr. Jeong Gon Son, says the battery they developed has an energy storage density that is comparable to that of the hard lithium-ion batteries that are currently available. And Dr. Son believes that the advanced energy storage system they’ve created has enormous potential in the areas of wearables and body-attachable electronics.