Powering the flexible world

From 2019 we will come to a world with flexible electronics and batteries to power these devices have attracted tremendous attentions. These devices may require batteries with special mechanical properties or form factors.

For more details about thin, flexible and printed batteries, please refer to IDTechEx’s report Flexible, Printed and Thin Film Batteries 2019-2029.

Flexible displays are being addressed further 

In 2018, the OLED industry will be worth $25.5Bn, rising to $30.3Bn in 2019. Over $15Bn has been invested in the OLED display industry from 2016 to 2018 with panel makers mainly based in China, Korea, Japan and Taiwan. The investment is coming from the need to differentiate products with better screens and new form factors, with plastic based OLEDs becoming the norm (in rigid format) leading to truly flexible OLED displays – foldable displays being the first commercial example of that.

Flexible displays require innovations from all their components, from the front panel, to the backplane, to the encapsulation. These innovations expand their capabilities and enable a world with flexible electronics.

Power solution is another piece of puzzle in this flexible world

A significant portion of flexible electronics will be portable and battery is always one of the limiting factors in the development of portable devices. We all have the experience that our smart phone batteries cannot last for long enough and they have to be recharged daily or even more frequently.

From lead acid, nickel-cadmium, to nickel-metal-hydride and lithium-ion batteries, the development of the electrochemical energy storage device is slow. Lithium-ion batteries, as the mostly successful commercial battery system nowadays, have been widely used in laptops, mobile phones, tablets and electric vehicles. However, the development of battery technology does not follow Moore’s Law as transistors and the improvement is very slow, which is due to the intrinsic limitations.

Now, we have proposed another requirement for the battery—we want to have flexible batteries to fit into flexible electronic devices. This makes the task even more challenging. However, the potential new form factors can enable more flexible arrangement of the batteries. For instance, if a battery can be curved or folded, a larger battery can be fit into the device and larger battery in general can last longer.

Complex landscape to navigate, both from technology and market point of view

There are in principle three big requirements:

  1. The batteries should be safe;
  2. The batteries need to last longer/offer higher power;
  3. The batteries should provide special form factor or flexibility.

To tackle these targets players are approaching from two different angles. They can start from traditional electrochemistry and explore new value propositions, or they can start from the special properties & form factors and increase their performance.

Therefore, we can see various technologies on the market. The marketing terms make integrators and end users more difficult to assess them. We can see batteries are categorised based on their mechanical properties, such as flexible batteries, stretchable batteries, rollable batteries, bendable batteries, foldable batteries. Batteries are classified by technology, including solid state batteries, lithium manganese batteries, alkaline batteries, silver zinc batteries, nickel-metal hydride battery. Their special form factors make cable batteries, needle batteries, micro-batteries and large-area batteries available. To address the manufacturing method, “printed batteries” show up in the press release quite often.

Targeting the right applications

The key for thin, flexible and printed batteries to succeed is to target the correct application, based on the capabilities and limitations of the battery. For instance, micro-batteries with a few mAh capacity are not sufficient to power a smart phone. A flexible battery based on traditional lithium-ion chemistry may turn out to be difficult to be miniaturised into a tiny device.

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