Singh is confident that the achievement could have significant potential. She points out that painting is an established industrial practice and that upscaling the application procedure used in the project – a handheld spray gun – should be easy. The consistency of layer thickness achievable through an automated procedure should also, she adds, help to improve battery performance.
But infusion of the electrolyte at large scale might be trickier. It would probably require the development of a material that was not sensitive to oxygen or moisture and would not therefore require the process to occur in a controlled environment.
If those things can be got right, Singh foresees the prospect of batteries that could be painted on to almost any surface, regardless of scale. When combined with a suitable charging source such as solar panels, it could open up radical new prospects for the safe and clean generation, storage and delivery of electricity.
Meanwhile, on this side of the Atlantic, a small start-up company formed less than a year ago has already come to the market with a product which uses existing techniques to provide an innovative back-up power source for mobile devices. The company is Crosskase, based in Pease Pottage in West Sussex. The product in question is one of a range of backpacks designed to carry devices such as laptop computers.
But this one in particular – the Solar – incorporates a small solar panel which in any conditions of ambient light will continuously charge up a lightweight battery unobtrusively located in the backpack. The battery can then be used to recharge an electronic device so that the user can enjoy extended periods away from a mains source without running out of power.
The origins of the product are explained by sales director Matt Thorpe. He says that he and two friends came up with the idea after their mobile phones ran out of power at a music festival. None of them has a background in product design – Thorpe worked at the time in e-sales, although one of his colleagues had a degree in mechanical engineering – nor did they seek help from a design consultancy.
Instead they put in several thousand pounds of their own money and most of their free time in the evenings and at weekends to develop the concept. Thorpe says they then found a manufacturer in China through the made-in-china internet portal.
The product they have come up with looks like a conventional small rucksack except for what appears to be a clear plastic panel on the exterior. This is in fact a polycrystalline solar panel connected to a compact battery just 9mm thick and 80g in weight located inside the pack.
The battery can, says Thorpe, be charged up from empty by the panel in about eight hours in direct sunlight, although mains electricity and USB options from a computer are also available. It stores enough charge to replenish a typical mobile phone or similar small electronic device twice. The bag also comes equipped with a set of connectors to enable it to charge devices from a range of mainstream manufacturers including Nokia, Samsung, LG, Motorola, Nintendo and Sony Ericsson. It went on to the market in April at a retail price of £139.99.
The utility of the concept obviously stretches beyond that of text-mad teenagers never losing their ability to send a quick message. As Thorpe points out, it could just as easily provide back-up for a hiker out in rough terrain or be incorporated into a briefcase for business use.
He and his colleagues are already working towards further developments. A much more powerful battery capable of recharging a laptop computer is on the agenda.
And, much more futuristically, the notion of using more exotic means of charging up the battery is being mooted – possibly by using photosynthetic material over the whole exterior of the bag.
It all comes down to one unavoidable conclusion. However sophisticated mobile devices become, they still need electric power, so the once prosaic area of battery technology must continue to develop in similarly clever ways that ensure that requirement is satisfied wherever the user happens to be.