Shapeable materials drive changing power designs

Shapeable materials drive changing power designs

Business news |
By Nick Flaherty

Builders, textile manufacturers, those doing home improvement and others are starting to buy electrically-smart, shapeable materials direct from materials companies, bypassing the electronics industry, say market researchers IDTechEx in a new report.

For example, InfinityPV self-adhesive solar tape cuts to any length and that decides voltage and power produced, not just shape. Layering gives other options. Increasingly, other reconfigurable electrical and electronic material can be stretched, pressed, or cut to shape on arrival. Expect electrically smart material fed into 3D printers to be another a huge opportunity for the added-value materials industry, says Raghu Das, CEO of IDTechEx.

“If you can get your battery, supercapacitor or solar power from area, you do not need the highest efficiency,” he said. “This is often the logic behind the new plastic-film forms of new thermoelectrics, piezoelectrics, triboelectrics, electrets and photovoltaics and of wide-area cuttable, printed or painted sensors. Biodegradable papertronics with ink and pens using, resistive, conductive, light-emitting and semiconductive inks are also part of this.”   

He cites researchers at the University of Tokyo researchers who have demonstrated plastic film hybrid electronics. “You can do more than just cut this sheet into fun or interesting shapes. It is thin and flexible. You can mold it around curved surfaces such as bags and clothes. Our idea is anyone could transform various surfaces into wireless charging areas,” he added.

Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory has polymer-sheet batteries that can be cut to shape for chosen energy storage and locations and work even after being shot and soaked. The University of Buffalo fabricates kirigami-inspired stretchable electronics that also alters electric and mechanical properties, while Nanyang Technological University, Singapore shows a fabric-like wearable supercapacitor that can be cut, folded, or stretched and it even demonstrates customisable stretchability of its wearable electronics.

Unrolling like a carpet, Renovagen photovoltaics will soon be available up to a huge 300kW output. Buyers choose power by choosing length and width and the PV array will unroll across a field as a temporary microgrid for outdoor events or charging a farmer’s new robots in distant places. The basic copper indium gallium diselenide CIGS technology has been applied as film to buses and building facades competing with the more colourful Heliatek organic photovoltaic film which both refreshes a building and makes it greener. 

NYU Tandon, University of Buffalo, Peking University and others have also demonstrated painted photovoltaics and now seek efficiency high enough to commercialise them. Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology even has solar paint that creates hydrogen fuel.

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