A laser-writing technique has been developed that could allow smartphone manufacturers to fabricate energy storage units like microbatteries and micro fuel cells that are more environmentally friendly and compact than existing designs.
The new method allows an energy source to be transferred to virtually any shape, significantly aiding the process of creating thinner and lighter microelectronics. Manufacturer designs are often limited by how oddly shaped the energy sources must become to make them conform to a limited space.
Using a method called direct laser writing (DLW), a team from the University of Missouri showed it was possible to synthesise and pattern hybrid nanocatalysts, or fuel sources, into complex geometric shapes.
The computer-controlled laser-writing technique uses high heat and pressure to produce a surface that became electrically conductive and also has catalytic functionalities.
"The DLW method and technique has seen a rapid advancement in the past decade," said Jian Lin, who worked on the project.
"The main goal of our research was to find an efficient and cost-effective way to integrate nanostructures with micro energy storage units for applications in microelectronics.
“Our lab decided to test whether catalysts could be synthesised and patterned on any surface by a one-step laser-processing method to produce microbatteries and micro fuel cells in the shapes dictated by computer programs."
Although the method has been proven, it is touted as only the first step towards manufacturing micro fuel cells that can convert chemical energy into electrical energy and batteries that can integrate into microcircuits.
"This technique has been proven to produce microsupercapacitors,” Lin added.
“By honing the process, handheld device and smartphone manufacturers will be able to produce components in whatever shape or size they choose, greatly impacting the size of these devices.
“Also, manufacturers will be able to choose more environmentally friendly catalysts for generating energy such as hydrogen or oxygen, which are considered cleaner fuels. The possibilities will be endless."
A team from Brown University recently found that intentionally placing ‘creases’ in graphene endows the future material with enhanced electrochemical properties, opening new possibilities for its use in battery electrodes and fuel cells.