In what could be big news for wearable tech, a team of researchers from the University of British Columbia have managed to create possibly the world’s first battery that is bendable, stretchable, and washable.
According to a report from the CBC, a team led by electrical and computer engineering professor John Madden — who also heads the school’s Advanced Materials and Process Engineering Lab — developed the battery while working on sensor technology.
Madden and his team, which includes Dr. Jgoc Tan Nguyen from UBC’s faculty of applied science, and PHD student Bahar Iranpour, developed the battery to be safe, comfortable, and durable enough to be able to withstand the rigours of a washing machine.
“We were excited to see we could throw it in the washing machine with soap and other clothes and still enough of the contents were kept separate from the wash that it will still work,” Madden told the CBC.
The battery, which Madden says has made it through nearly 40 wash cycles so far, was created by the team using several thin layers of plastic polymers that encase within them the battery’s zinc and manganese dioxide-based components. The team chose zinc and manganese dioxide over the more common lithium-ion battery structure as they are safer when worn next to human skin.
“Imagine a battery that’s maybe a little bit larger than a coin cell that you can grab in your hands, stretch to twice its length, twist and throw in the washing machine and it will still work,” said Madden.
With biometric wearables and clothing growing rapidly in both their popularity and their utility in recent years, spurred on by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and wearables’ health tracking capabilities, Madden’s new battery could have a number of use cases. Commenting further to the CBC, Madden said one of the team’s “potential customers” is aiming to put the battery into a heart monitor that could be worn by patients for 24 hours. “That would be an application where somebody is sent home from the hospital, they can wear something that’s much less intrusive and go about their daily life in a safe and more comfortable way,” he said.