Wearable Tech World Feature Article
September 20, 2013

Bring Me My Power Belt: The Future of Wearable Batteries

Wearable computing is forcing companies to once again rethink battery packaging and technology. But it is also opening the door to more power options for both wearable and portable devices. You may one day in the not-too-distant future wear an "energy belt" or a bracelet to deliver additional power to a wearable or mobile device.

Current wearable battery technology is built around lithium-ion polymer technology. It's somewhat flexible, enabling a power source to be packed in an available volume of space, but it also requires a strong external case to maintain battery cell shape for containment/protection and efficiency. You can't mold a lithium polymer battery into a belt or bracelet because you need a hard container around it to protect the innards from damage and exposure to air.

Taiwan-based ProLogium (PLG) has been showing off its Flexible Printed Circuit Lithium-Ceramic Battery (FLCB) technology as better alternative to polymer-based solutions. The company has a 90 percent solid-state ceramic electrolyte that is intrinsically safe, avoiding leakage problems. Demonstrations of the bendable battery include things you'd never think about doing to an ordinary battery of any type, including folding and bending it, cutting it, punching it with a hammer and burning it. In addition, abnormal overcharging -- the bane of other lithium-ion technology -- doesn't affect it at all, with tests between 6 volts to 30 volts showing that it doesn't burst into flame. There are several videos showing a strip of getting steadily snipped apart without bursting into flames -- and continuing to deliver power to an LED light!

Since the battery is thin, light, and doesn't require protective cladding, FLCB can be incorporated into normally "dead weight" areas such as flip covers for smartphones and tablets. It can also be built in a layer to fill a tablet or ultrabook case. ProLogium has gone so far as to propose it for a power source for "smart cloth" applications in clothing, NFC display and RFID cards, and more traditional solar-panel backpack-style charging solutions.

Closer to Silicon Valley, Imprint Energy is taking another crack at zinc-based battery technology. Developed by the company's founders at the University of California, Berkeley, Zinc Poly is a flexible battery foil that can be custom-printed to any form, using zinc and screen printing technology along with a solid polymer. Dow Chemical and In-Q-Tel -- the CIA's venture fund -- have provided seed money to the start-up. Commercial production of Zincpoly is a couple of years or more down the road, with the most likely path being outsourcing or licensing of production to others.

Both technologies provide paths to carrying along more power comfortably, rather than having to carry separate batteries in cases. Imagine a lanyard for your expensive Google Glass that can provide additional juice if you forget to charge the evening before. The huge and constantly changing phone case market should be able to add power as a standard feature.

My favorite idea is the "power belt" (which will no doubt be followed by power suspenders), but the challenge becomes how to most effectively connect a flexible battery belt to the smartphone sitting in my pocket. Does the power belt come with a charging case addition along with a discreet dangling wire to go into my pocket? Or will I have to shop for pants with ports in the pockets?




Edited by Rachel Ramsey




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