Spray-on battery makes power paintable

Crave looks at a new technology that redefines the concept of the traditional battery. In other words, this ain't your pappy's AA.

Here, the silver-colored panels contain the spray-on batteries covered by a sealant. The solar panel collects energy from lab lights, which transfers to the batteries. Those energy sources illuminate the LED array that spells "Rice." Jeff Fitlow/Rice University

Brainiacs at Rice University today debuted a spray-on lithium ion battery that they say could be applied to nearly any surface. You read that right -- a paintable battery.

The paint contains layers, each representing a necessary component of a conventional battery -- current collectors made in part from purified single-wall carbon nanotubes, a cathode, an anode, and a polymer separator -- as described in a report published today in Nature authored by Rice graduate student Neelam Singh and her team. Spraying the painted battery is a multilayer process, but when you're done, you have a covered surface that stores energy and discharges it when needed -- that is, a battery.

From left: The structure of a conventional battery, and the ingredients of the five layer spray-on battery. (Click to enlarge.) Neelam Singh/Rice University

Skeptical? One experiment conducted by Singh and her team reveals the promise of the technology: Nine bathroom tile-based batteries were connected in parallel. One was topped with a solar cell that converted power from a white laboratory light. When fully charged by both the solar panel and house current, the batteries alone powered a set of light-emitting diodes that spelled out "Rice" for six hours; the batteries provided a steady 2.4 volts.

Even after 60 charge/discharge cycles, the unusual battery barely lost capacity. The team also airbrushed the spray formula onto ceramic bathroom tiles, flexible polymers, glass, stainless steel, and a beer stein. (That's sure one way to charge up a drink.)

Singh worked on the paintable battery with a wide range of people from Rice and the scientific community, including graduate students Charudatta Galande and Akshay Mathkar; Los Alamos National Laboratory researcher Wai Gao; research scientist Arava Leela Mohana Reddy; Rice Quantum Institute interns Andrea Miranda; and Alexandru Vlad, a postdoctoral researcher at the Universite Catholique de Louvain, Belgium.

Singh and her team continue to work on refining this spray-on battery. Future versions of the concept could include electrolytes that make it easier to paint on batteries in the open air, or sprayed batteries on "snap-together tiles that can be configured in any number of ways," as the university release puts it.

Did she just hint at Lego-style batteries? Sign me up!

Featured Video
This content is rated TV-MA, and is for viewers 18 years or older. Are you of age?
Sorry, you are not old enough to view this content.

iPhone 6S chip controversy over battery life

Not all new iPhones have the same processor chip, but Apple says differences in performance are minimal. Apple also pulls ad-blocking apps over privacy concerns, and Netflix raises its price again.

by Bridget Carey