Jul 272011
 

Just as televisions have evolved from box sets to flat screens and telephones have progressed from booths to mobiles, imagine batteries so inconspicuous that one can see right through them.

Scientists have now invented clear, flexible batteries that, when sandwiched together with similarly transparent video displays, touch screens, microchips and solar cells, might help lead to entirely see-through mobile devices. For instance, one might imagine tablet with clear bodies that can superimpose images onto whatever you see through them for augmented reality applications.

The new invention is a novel type of lithium-ion battery, the kind now popular in consumer electronics because of how much power it can store. To key to making such a battery appear transparent involved miniaturizing its opaque parts until they are too small to be seen with the naked eye and then spreading them apart so they only cover a small portion of a see-through backing.

Just as televisions have evolved from box sets to flat screens and telephones have progressed from booths to mobiles, imagine batteries so inconspicuous that one can see right through them.

The new invention is a novel type of lithium-ion battery, the kind now popular in consumer electronics because of how much power it can store. To key to making such a battery appear transparent involved miniaturizing its opaque parts until they are too small to be seen with the naked eye and then spreading them apart so they only cover a small portion of a see-through backing.

Researchers first created a flexible silicone rubber membrane with a grid of trenches each 35 microns or millionths of a meter wide patterned onto it. In comparison, the human eye can only make out details 50 to 100 microns in size.

The scientists then filled the trenches with a water-based slurry containing lithium-ion battery materials. Electric current moves from trenches of lithium titanate spinel, which form the negative electrode, across a gel to trenches of lithium manganese oxide, which make up the positive electrode. A gold film deposited onto this silicone rubber helps collect this electric current to power electronics.

“The transparent batteries here open up exciting opportunities for transparent electronics — for transparent cellphones, laptops, iPads,” researcher Yi Cui, a materials scientist at Stanford University in California, told InnovationNewsDaily. “Cool and beautiful.”

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