In the labs: Batteries that spray on and can grow


Battery breakthroughs are harder to deliver than a number one pop single, but we still want to chronicle some of the bleeding edge research that could one day be promising. Here’s two projects we’ve read about recently that sound intriguing out of Rice University, in Houston and Catholic University of Louvain, in Belgium, as well as the Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory out of the Pacific Northwest National Lab.

Spray-on battery:

Scientific American reports on researchers that have developed a spray-on, or paint-on process for batteries. The team, hailing from Rice University, and Catholic University of Louvain, were able to mix together liquid layers of a battery that could be painted or sprayed onto surfaces and could operate as a functioning battery and actually store energy.

The researchers painted on the battery mixture — it comes in layers — onto glass, a flexible thin film, ceramic bathroom tiles,  stainless steel and the side of a beer stein, and all of the surfaces worked. Scientific American says: “Lithium cobalt oxide was used as the cathode, commercially available gel electrolytes as the separator, lithium titanium oxide as the anode, and copper as the negative current collector.”

Now if the technology could actually be moved out of the lab economically, if could be paired with solar, or with building facades or windows.

A battery that grows:

Researchers at the Environmental Molecular Sciences Lab have created a new type of anode that is made up of single silicon nanoparticles inside carbon shells — the architecture is “much like yolks inside eggs,” says the release from EMSL. A battery is made up of an anode on one side and a cathode on the other, with an electrolyte in between. For traditional lithium ion batteries, lithium ions travel from the anode to the cathode through the electrolyte, creating a chemical reaction that allows electrons to be harvested along the way.

With the battery from EMSL the lithium ions travel from the cathode, through the electrolyte, and through the carbon shells, to the silicon, which can hold ten times more lithium ions than the carbon can. The battery leaves enough space inside the carbon shell for the silicon to swell and fill the shells as the battery charges.

Image courtesy of Leonardo Cassarani, and EMSL.



Power computing can tell us a lot about what is likely to happen the energy. The industry started with centralised mainframes in the 60s. In the 80s computing was decentralised with the invention of laptops and desktops. Further recentralisation occurred when smart phones appeared post 2000.

Post 2010, computing has become centralised again, moving into the cloud.

Energy has been struck in the 60s where computing was – centralised. Only now is innovation moving us to decentralisation of energy. The trouble is with clean tech solutions like wind and solar, is they require additional infrastructure to be built and maintained. Retrospectively fitting these solutions to buildings is expensive and requires customisation and consultants.

If we are going to make energy as free and easy to harness as the air around us, it has to be as simple as paint in a tin. It shouldn’t require expensive consultants or infrastructure. With little know-how, any person should be able to turn their home into an energy source.

The Economist published a story a few months ago. A paint manufacturer created a paint that when applied to a structure, could map that structure’s location and 3D form back to the cloud using a medical-imaging technique called electrical-impedance tomography.

Great product for ships and structures residing in remote areas. Most importantly it’s cheap, and anyone can apply it.

We need to make energy that simple. If it doesn’t come in a tin that any unskilled person can paint on a wall, it won’t work. We did a piece that looks at how the future is simple.

James Plotkin

If I spray it on myself, will I keep going and going and going…?


I love bleeding edge articles. And energy storage is the holy grail!

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