UNSW-UQ researchers develop batteries that can be printed like a newspaper

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Batteries are the frontier in renewables research. Make them easy to produce, and capable of storing vast amounts of solar and wind energy, and it’s game on for renewables as a reliable major source of power.

In that vein, researchers are developing ultra-thin, flexible screen-printed batteries that can be printed like a newspaper.

Backed by the energy innovator and philanthropist Trevor St Baker, founder of ERM Power, a joint UNSW-University of Queensland project is underway to create the technology and bring it to market. They are hoping for major implementations within 3 years.

Mr St Baker said printed batteries had the ability to revolutionise everyday life.

“Unlike traditional batteries, the printed battery can be any shape required for the specific application, such as wearable electronics and medical and healthcare products such as skin treatment patches,” he said.

“It’s literally the printing of solid state batteries in a thin, flexible format that can be adapted to almost any shape.”

He said printed batteries also had potential for intermittent generation, such as being laminated to the back of solar panels and, therefore, delivering ‘in-built’ storage which would shift day time solar generation to night time energy delivery.

Currently companies such as Tesla and South Australia’s Redflow offer solar panel and battery solutions, but the batteries are separate entities. If Mr St Baker’s idea takes hold, storage could be part of an ordinary solar panel.

The $12 million project has received a $2 million grant from the Cooperative Research Centres Projects scheme.

Mark Hoffman, UNSW’s Dean of Engineering, said (battery) storage had been a missing piece of the puzzle when it came to renewable energy.

“The world is crying out for storage solutions, and this partnership has the potential to deliver on that urgent need. What’s exciting is that this technology also has immediate applications in wearables and small-scale devices.”

Chris Greig, director of University of Queensland’s Dow Centre for Sustainable Engineering Innovation and the UQ Energy Initiative, said the batteries could help reinvigorate Australia’s manufacturing industries.

“This technology represents not just an opportunity for us to be involved in cutting-edge science and innovation, but presents a real opportunity for the next generation of Australian manufacturing.

“Our mission is to foster and facilitate advances in science and engineering which are technologically, economically and socially sustainable. This project fits the bill perfectly and the range of applications is probably only limited by our imaginations,” he said.

UNSW in its statement said the first applications of the technology would be in small-scale devices, with development work in large-scale uses over the next three years. Development would rely on Printed Energy’s proprietary designs.

The University of Queensland’s Dow Centre would coordinate the research effort.

The Independent Review into the Future Security of the National Electricity Market, chaired by the Chief Scientist, Alan Finkel, made 50 recommendations for the upgrade of Australia’s electricity grid.

In its statement the University said it was essentially a giant complex machine of interlinked control centres, computers and 40,000 km of cabling.

“Focused on improving the reliability and security of the grid, the Finkel report notes the rapid investment in storage at grid-scale, including batteries and pumped hydro, in response to high levels of variable renewable electricity.”

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