Innovation | Micro Batteries

Kyle O’Donnell

Form and function Rechargeable lithium ion batteries the size of a grain of sand, with nodes produced by a 3D printer, could power biomedical implants, coin-size sensors, and other tiny electronics.

Innovator Jennifer Lewis

Age 48

Professor of Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard

Shape The 3D printer squeezes out the batteries in a zigzag pattern to keep them compact. They can be 8 or 16 levels (0.25 mm or 0.5 mm) high. Each carries 1 milliwatt of charge.

Ingredients Different lithium-oxide compounds make up the anodes and cathodes. The cost of materials for each battery is less than a penny.

Weight Each battery weighs about 100 micrograms, 1,000 times less than the lightest lithium ion battery on the market.

Charging If equipped with microphotovoltaic cells, the batteries can be recharged with sunlight. Another option: a wireless power station.

Next Steps

Lewis says her researchers are testing other materials to increase battery life, and developing different sizes and shapes of batteries for possible use in hearing aids or tiny flying drones called RoboBees. The batteries will need a smaller version of their plastic, hermetically sealed packaging, which is about 10 times the batteries’ size.

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