Companies have been trying to figure out how to use carbon nanotubes in electronics. Batteries may be the answer, say researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
The device is a piece of paper infused with carbon nanotubes and a salt, which serves as an electrolyte. Because it stores energy and conducts it, the device can act like a battery.
A number of corporate labs and universities have come up with flexible batteries in the past. Power Paper from Israel makes a flexible battery printed on polymers that relies on zinc as an electrolyte. It sells it to the cosmetics industry. Japan Inc. also has trotted out a lot of prototypes. Still, these things haven't gone commercial so any advance is welcome.
As an added bonus, the RPI device can deliver power over a long period of time, like a battery, or lots of power in a short burst, like a capacitor.
It's essentially a regular piece of paper, but it's made in a very intelligent way, said Robert Linhardt, the Ann and John H. Broadbent '59 Senior Constellation Professor of Biocatalysis and Metabolic Engineering at Rensselaer, in a prepared statement.
Carbon nanotubes have been the celebrity of the material science circuit for the past decade or so. Among their other attributes, nanotubes conduct electricity more efficiently than metal. They are also flexible, although stronger than steel. Right now, they are somewhat expensive, but mass manufacturing will drop the price. The only element is carbon, after all.
Conceivably, these paper batteries could be stacked up in a device to give it power. They could be used to insert electronic computers into luggage tags or greeting cards or into larger devices.
But it is a long road. Battery technology, and the adoption by equipment makers, takes a long time.