Thin-Film and Printed Batteries Update

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Published: December 03, 2013

Category: Emerging Electronics

To date, the history of thin-film and printed batteries has not been an entirely happy one.  Both RFIDs and medical/cosmetic patches have failed to live up to the “killer app” expectations of the thin battery sector.  And there are now perhaps 40 percent fewer firms making thin batteries than there was when NanoMarkets started covering this sector.

In this environment, one might be forgiven for condemning thin batteries as a technology in search of an application.  And even if one considers smart cards, the one area where thin batteries have achieved some traction, it is hard to think of the battery firms creating large amounts of value.  A CEO of a thin battery firm seeking that IPO down the road doesn’t have much to hang his or her hat on.

But although still in the making, NanoMarkets points to wearable and flexible products as well as devices connected to the “Internet-of-Things” that potentially offer a large market for thin batteries going forward; big enough to make the whole thin battery opportunity much more worth pursuing than ever before.

If this proves to be the case, the disappointments around RFID, patches and the like can be forgotten.  These new wearable and flexible and “IoT”-oriented products could well give the market for printed and thin-film batteries a new lease on life.

The Thin-Film/Printed Battery Sector is in a Validation Phase

The thin-film/printed battery industry has realized for quite some time that these batteries can never compete with conventional batteries in applications that do not have the constraints of size and shape or accessibility (where frequent replacing or recharging of batteries is not possible).  Thin battery technology is meant to fill the gap created by conventional energy storage devices that are unable to keep pace with the demanding size and high density power requirements of some of today’s highly advanced electronic devices.

With this situation in mind, thin-film/printed battery firms have spent the last few years pursuing various types of applications with the hope that something would stick. In some cases—and not always successfully—the battery firms have tried to develop their own applications.  But much of the time, they have realized that partnering with OEMs to build an ecosystem of complementary vendors is essential to accelerate delivery of end products and create a steady market for thin batteries.

In addition, effort needs to be put into the simplification of the manufacturing process, reduction of costs, and thus the creation of the scale and quality that is required to drive this market.  If the printed/thin-film battery sector is finally to succeed, we will have to see some significant financing in 2014, and perhaps some announcements of new manufacturing approaches.

An example here is Solicore’s 2103 announcement that it has developed the world’s first digitally printed thin-film lithium battery. This development aims to establish the necessary capacity to support the important markets, such as powered cards, medical patches, and powered RFIDs/sensors. It is also expected to cater to a variety of custom designs to meet the varying needs of the marketplace.

Therefore, the current flavor in the thin-film and printed battery industry is a combination of application and business development through an ecosystem of vendors and investment in manufacturing facilities and technology to create the necessary framework to meet the demands of the market in the near future.

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