Scientists create stretchy washable battery | The future of wearable tech

Scientists at the University of British Columbia: Bahar Iranpour, Dr. John Madden, and Dr. Ngoc Tan Nguyen (pictured left to right)

Researchers at the University of British Columbia (UBC) in Canada have created a stretchy washable battery which could change the future of wearable technology. 

The experimental battery, developed by Dr. Ngoc Tan Nguyen and his colleagues Bahar Iranpour, Evan Cheng, and Dr. John Madden, works even when stretched to twice its length or after being washed. 

“Wearable electronics are a big market and stretchable batteries are essential to their development,” says Dr. Ngoc Tan Nguyen, a postdoctoral fellow at UBC’s faculty of applied science. “However, up until now, stretchable batteries have not been washable. This is a critical addition if they are to withstand the demands of everyday use.”

The stretchy washable battery has a rubbery plastic exterior to make it flexible

The flexibility of the battery is owed to its advanced engineering, involving the grinding of its key compounds including zinc and manganese dioxide into small pieces and embedding them into a rubbery plastic. Creating what the researchers call “an airtight, waterproof seal that ensures the integrity of the battery through repeated use.” 

Undergoing continual experimentation, the prototype battery has so far withstood 39 wash cycles (through home and commercial-grade washing machines) to confirm its resilience, and the team are aiming to further improve its durability. Dr. Nguyen explains that the decision to use zinc and manganese dioxide is based on the fact that “for devices worn next to the skin, it’s safer chemistry than lithium-ion batteries which can produce toxic compounds when they break.”

When the prototypes were put through a wash cycle they came out intact and functional

What makes the battery even better is that it can be produced in large numbers at a low cost – and when available to consumers it could cost the same as an ordinary rechargeable battery according to the researchers. 

It’s undoubtedly a significant breakthrough, and in addition to watches and patches for measuring vital signs it is claimed that we could see the stretchy washable batteries being integrated with clothing that can actively change colour or temperature. Watch this space!

Photography: Kai Jacobson/UBC

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