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Power Science

Researchers Develop Solid But Flexible Electrolyte For Bendable Batteries 41

hypnosec writes "Korean scientists have developed a 'fluid-like' polymer electrolyte used in lithium-ion batteries that would pave way for flexible batteries and flexible smartphones. The discovery was made by a joint team of researchers that was led by Professor Lee Sang-young of Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology. The new electrolyte, though flexible, is made of solid materials hence making the batteries more stable than the lithium-ion batteries used today." Paper, but full text is paywalled.
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Researchers Develop Solid But Flexible Electrolyte For Bendable Batteries

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  • by Yarhj ( 1305397 ) on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @09:55AM (#42602451)
    I've seen flexible phones given as the justification for dozens of research projects over the last few years, but does anyone actually want them? I have no real need or desire to roll my phone up and put it in my pocket -- it would just fit worse than it does now. I'd much rather have a battery that lasts through an entire day.
    • If they don't shatter when you drop them, I can see that being a plus for many people..... however its not for me. I don't drop my stuff :D

      • by ledow ( 319597 ) on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @11:13AM (#42603483) Homepage

        I drop every gadget I've ever owned. Some of them multiple times every day. And I mean, drop, as in pull something out of my pocket and my satnav/phone/etc. goes flying out with it at high speed and whacks against a wall and then hits the floor.

        I have yet to actually BREAK a gadget like that. I have scratched screens slightly but never to the point they were unusable. Hell, most of my gadgets end up going through the washing machine and dryer at least once in their life.

        A flexible phone just seems to have other ways to break it - flexing it too far, applying pressure at odd angles when flexed, etc. Unless I can actually fold it like paper, it's going to have a point where it breaks. And if I can fold it like paper, then it's going to have to suffer what a piece of paper (like a receipt) can go through in the bottom of your pocket afresh EVERY DAY without problems.

        Hell, most paper receipts in my pocket don't last 24 hours without tearing or being so folded and smudged that they are unreadable. I can't imagine a plastic device of any material tolerating that at all.

        If a phone is "flexible", it has to be VERY flexible. Almost ridiculously flexible. I don't think this generation or even the next of flexible gadgets will be. But if it's solid, it only has to be quite solid, and have a little band of rubber in the right place and it's nigh-on invincible in daily use, and we already know how to do that (whether manufacturer's BOTHER to do it is another matter, I'm still waiting for a laptop with decent hinges on the screen because that's killed every laptop I've ever owned).

        I honestly don't think that if I took one of these "flexible" phones and tried to fold it in half along a sharp crease that it would work afterwards. And that's exactly the kind of thing that would happen in my pocket with my large bunch of keys, wallet, GPS, etc. in it at various times of the day.

        All being flexible does is give you ways to put even more pressure on the materials. Solid devices cannot occupy each other's spaces, and internal materials are protected by an external core (which means only half your things have to be able to take abuse).

        But a flexible phone, thrown in my pocket, will uncurl, curve, twist and bend as I walk and EVERY component has to suffer that. Then when I throw my keys in or ram a chocolate bar into my pocket, it's going to put huge pressure on the edges of those curves and make things bend perpendicular to anything it's already experiencing and that's going to snap it, break it, pop it (I imagine if you flex one area, it will have to "pop" into a shape to relief the stress, like those squidgy-balls-in-a-net), or just make the internals wear to the point that a vital connection stops working.

        Seriously, the "gentle-wibble" that I see in demos today isn't flexibility that's practical. Show me a phone you can screw up like a piece of paper while in the heat of the moment and then just throw, and it survives it thousands of times over, then you might have a material that can live up to public consumption.

        My car aerial is "flexible", but I can't get it back to straight if I kink it. That's the sort of flexible they are selling, but not the sort they are promising.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @10:03AM (#42602585)

      A flexible battery might allow 'more' battery to be inserted in an available space. If your device has space leftover that isn't nicely cubical, finding a battery to fill it is difficult. This could reduce that problem.

      There's also flexible keyboards you can roll up, so a flexible tablet could have its uses.
      There was also a story long time ago about clothes that generated power from movement or some such thing. Having the batteries in the clothing would be easier to use than a separate battery pack.

    • by MacTO ( 1161105 ) on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @10:39AM (#42603041)

      The talk of rolling and folding is just to get people excited.

      A far more realistic use would be to make more durable devices: something that you can put into your purse or pocket and not have to worry about as much. (Example: the screen won't crack if the case is twisted a bit.) I'm guessing that it will also allow for much thinner devices, since they don't have to worry about making rigid cases.

    • According to the article the new batteries are more durable, faster to produce and safer. That they are also flexible is probably a nice side effect. As for the use cases: Maybe currently this would be more interesting for tablets. I'd like them to be bendable like a journal, much easier to pack them in my bag.
    • Are you really so short sighted?

      The battery is flexible - it can fit into all available space, giving much more usable energy.

      If the battery is flexible, then the casing can be. It's a useful extension of the form factor, think medical devices. Not just phones - that's how people sell it to the MBAs for research money.

    • You should check out the Nokia Morph Phone Concept. []

      They had certain ideas about the possible applications of a flexible phone.

    • by Hentes ( 2461350 )

      Right now we have three kinds of portable devices: phones, tablets and laptops. A foldable, self-powered touchscreen could serve as all three, while communicating with the computing unit in your bag/pocket wirelessly.

  • Interesting ideas come to my mind if such "liquid" would be really liquid
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @10:10AM (#42602697)

    According to the researchers, conventional batteries that use liquefied electrolytes are inflexible and are at the risk of explosion. The new electrolyte though flexible is made of solid materials hence making the batteries more stable than the lithium-ion batteries used today.

    “Because the new battery uses flexible but solid materials, and not liquids, it can be expected to show a much higher level of stability than conventional rechargeable batteries” said an official of Korean Science Ministry notes Korean Joongang Daily.

    The process of creating these flexible batteries is faster than that used to manufacture conventional batteries. The new flexible polymer electrolyte is spread on electrodes which are then blasted with UV light for about 30 seconds.

    Flexibility is minor news. Great news is: electric cars just became safer and cheaper. Extra good news for me personally is: soon there'll finally be cars worth buying on the market.

    • by ledow ( 319597 )

      "just became" = "might, possibly, maybe, years in the future, when the economies of scale bring this down to the same price as a 'normal' battery"

      Personally, I'd just rather we worked out how to reduce the weight of batteries. It would have much, much more effect and wins all round. Second would be power capacity, but that's obvious and comes as part of the reduction of weight too.

  • by strack ( 1051390 )
    Well thats a relief. Thats whats always bothered me about batteries. Just how gosh darn inflexible they are. Cough.
    • by ledow ( 319597 )

      A flexible battery, means flexible devices.

      It also means a much more custom-shaped battery which could also mean either smaller devices (with weird shaped batteries) or impossible-to-source replacement batteries.

      You're right, in that I'd much rather have 1% more battery life than anything flexible, but you can also see why some companies would love this technology to exist.

      "Flexible" is the new "tablet" which only took 20+ years to appear after it first became viable and probably won't last another 5 before

  • Like Nafion, which is several decades old.

  • The cell phone I bought quite a few years ago (more than a decade) has a Li-pol battery [].
    This seems to be based on a similar idea (they mention a polymer matrix as well) so solid but flexible electrolyte is not a first, as I have a consumer device over a decade old that has exactly that.[1]
    The novelty seems to be (from reading the actual pay-walled article, God forbid!) that this can be printed. But even this may just be similar to all of these "in a computer" patents. Maybe back then it was also true, but

  • Welcome to the new iPhone 11* limper than ever!

    *Note: substitute 'Galaxy XYZ' if you're an Apple fan

  • If only my contract had any flex.
  • IIRC, current lithium ion battery production produces a fair amount of pollution. Would the new process improve on that?
  • Seriously? I can understand how that might be one application of a flexible battery, but you'd also need the handset itself to be flexible, meaning all of the plastic covering, the SoC and any buttons, assuming it had any like volume adjustment buttons and a power button, would need to be flexible too (not just the battery).

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