The evolution of wearable electronics and Internet of Things (IoT) devices will increasingly require battery attributes such as thinness, flexibility, light weight, and low charging thresholds. The demand for batteries with these unique parameters is expected to increase significantly over the next few years, as manufacturers begin using them to not only differentiate current products, but also to introduce new product categories.
The market for printed and flexible batteries, which earned revenues of only $6.9 million in 2014, is expected to reach $400 million in 2025, according to a recent report from IDTechEx Research. The market is being supported by several large corporations, such as Apple and Samsung, which have moved into the development of flexible batteries used in wearable technology.
In 2013, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office published a patent from Apple that outlined a flexible battery pack, designed to “allow the battery to be shaped to fit a form factor of the electronic device.” Later that year, LG Chem revealed a small cable-shaped battery that is capable of being tied in a knot. At the 2014 InterBattery convention, Samsung SDI unveiled a pliable battery that closely resembled a stick of chewing gum.
These kinds of batteries have had limited commercial success in recent years, due to the higher cost, lower capacity, and shorter lifespan when compared to traditional coin-cell batteries. Raghu Das, CEO of IDTechEx and a senior analyst of printed electronics, said that printed and flexible batteries would not succeed merely as “a replacement versus cheaper, higher-performing incumbents,” especially in the consumer electronics market. Instead, he urged that this technology would support low-cost, low-power products in markets such as disposable medical devices, passive RFID, skin patches, medical sensors, backup power, wireless sensors, and smart cards.
The report cited several early developments in the IoT ecosystem made possible by flexible batteries. Earlier this year, Qualcomm revealed a new product concept with the support of printed-battery company Enfucell—a sensing label for golfers that transmits club speed and other data to a smartphone. In another recent example, Blue Spark Technologies introduced a smart bandage called TempTraq, which sends a child's temperature to a smartphone via a low-energy Bluetooth circuit and sensor powered by a flexible battery.