I'm Bob Karson with the Discovery Files--new advances in science and engineering from the National Science Foundation.
Recently engineers have developed miniature medical implants, flying insect-like robots, and tiny cameras and microphones that fit into a pair of glasses. The elephant in the room is that to power these diminutive devices, the batteries are comparatively huge. (Sound effect: elephant trumpet) Kind of defeats the purpose.
A team from Harvard University and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has demonstrated the world's first 3-D printed microbattery--small enough to fit into a tiny device, yet provide enough stored energy to power it.
(Sound effect: inkjet printer) A 3-D printed microbattery is a bit different than what your inkjet puts out. Unless you can imagine the inkjets as tiny toothpaste tube-like nozzles about the diameter of a human hair. These tubes extrude electrochemically-active materials, one layer at a time, that instantly harden to create stacks of tightly interlaced, ultrathin electrodes. The electrodes are then encased, an electrolytic solution is added and you've printed yourself a lithium-ion battery.
Performance? Comparable to commercial batteries--in charge and discharge rate, cycle life and energy densities. The big difference? They're about the size of a grain of sand.
A different kind of "powerpoint" presentation.
(Sound effect: theme music) "The Discovery Files" covers projects funded by the government's National Science Foundation. Federally sponsored research--brought to you, by you! Learn more at nsf.gov on our podcast.