Lithium-ion batteries are found in many devices in our high-tech world. From gadgets like laptops and cell phones to much larger electric vehicles, lithium-ion batteries are the batteries of today.
But they don't appear to be the batteries of the future. For one thing, they batteries themselves require extensive casings because of their tendency to catch fire when exposed to water or air. Not to mention the fact that a battery leak could be toxic.
Because of that, there are size restrictions on objects that contain them. Even the smallest and lightest laptops around cannot be much smaller because of the solid, sizable batteries that make them run.
And then there's the limited life and extensive charge time. For cell phones and laptops, this isn't such a big deal (though battery life could always be longer), but for electric vehicles, whose range depends on battery life and whose charge time is important for travel, it's becoming a dilemma.
Battery companies and engineering laboratories have been working on developing batteries that can replace the lithium-ion battery. For electric vehicles, the focus is a longer range and shorter charge time.
For gadgets – particularly wearable gadgets – the goal is to make something smaller, sleeker, and more durable.
And that's where Imprint Energy comes in.
Founded in 2010 and headquartered in Alameda, California, Imprint Energy grew out of research from the University of California, Berkeley.
Christine Ho and Brooks Kincaid were both PhD candidates at the time the company was founded, and they were dedicated to developing a new form of battery that removed the toxic, combustible lithium from the equation.
Their result? Zinc.
They called their battery Zinc Poly™. Unlike other zinc batteries, which are prevented from recharging by the dendrites that grow as a result of the zinc's reaction with a liquid electrolyte, the Zinc Poly™ uses a solid electrolyte so it is able to recharge.
And though it won't sustain a high-powered electric car, it is ideal for wearables. The battery is very thin, flexible, and very energy dense – storing up a lot more power in a smaller footprint than a lithium battery could.
Zinc also makes Imprint's batteries safer and less toxic than lithium-based batteries are. The team at Imprint can work on zinc batteries in the open air. And zinc batteries are a safer option for creating devices that sit on—or even in—the body. Imagine a lithium battery powering a heart device inside a person's chest cavity—and the battery leaks lithium into the person's body. Yikes.
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But a zinc battery could feasibly power a heart device without causing danger to the person. The products are non-toxic and, unlike lithium, run no risk of combustion.
They're easy to manufacture, too. The batteries are made with battery-printing machines, where the material is printed onto a sort of silk screen that can be customized for clients.
Right now, Imprint Energy's facility can only make around 100 cells a day, but it's currently still in the sampling phase, building up a client base and stirring interest.
As CEO Devin MacKenzie told Katie Fehrenbacher of GigaOM, the company could scale up to commercial manufacturing in two to three years, working with manufacturers instead of building its own factories.
The Zinc Poly™ battery could work to power anything from exercise-tracking wristbands to health monitors. It's safe for human contact, it has breakthrough recharging technology, and it's an effective way to keep the battery and the product it powers small and discreet.
That's all for now,
Energy & Capital's modern energy guru, Brianna digs deep into the industry with accurate and insightful updates into the biggest energy companies and events. She stays up to date with the latest market moves and industry finds, bringing readers a unique view of current energy trends. For more on Brianna, see her editor's page.