Scientists at Rice University in Houston have invented a spray paint that functions as a battery.
The scientists turned lithium-ion battery materials, such as aluminum and copper, into a sprayable liquid form, which can be applied to any surface and turn it into an energy storage device. They used glass, stainless steel, ceramic tile, flexible polymer sheets and even a mug to demonstrate how well the paint works.
The downside—and it’s a big one—is that engineering lithium-ion battery materials into paint is hazardous and costly, so applying this method on a large scale isn’t currently possible. But perhaps less toxic battery compounds could be explored.
The promise for the future is tantalizing. Every battery-powered device could be affected, from cell phones to cameras to electric cars.
One of the tiles had solar cells on the other side, to show that solar power could be used to charge the battery.
In another experiment, the scientists stenciled the battery-like paint onto a mug, spelling out the word “rice.” This was done to illustrate the virtually limitless forms and shapes that could be created.
Creating the battery actually requires several layers of the specially engineered paint, with each layer containing different material and contributing a necessary function.
Consider how this method of battery construction might benefit automakers, which struggle to fit large battery packs into hybrids and electric cars. Hypothetically speaking, body panels already used on a vehicle could be treated with the battery-like spray paint—potentially replacing, or at least reducing, the size of bulky battery packs used on current hybrids and electric vehicles.
There are issues that would have to be worked out though, such as what would happen when the sprayed-on batteries no longer hold a charge. Perhaps they would have to be applied only to panels that could be easily swapped out, such as interior trim panels.
Another hypothetical scenario might have the roof, hood and trunk lid made of two layers: solar cells on top, spray-on batteries on the bottom. Solar power would be used to keep the batteries charged. And maybe just the layer of batteries could be replaced when it no longer holds a charge.
It’s all speculation at this point. Still, there’s no question spray-on batteries have the potential to revolutionize energy storage.
One experiment, conducted by the scientists in Rice University’s Department of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science, featured nine ceramic tiles with sprayed-on batteries. Fully charged, the nine battery tiles powered 40 red LEDs for more than six hours.