Laser technique could help create more eco-friendly batteries

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A group from the University of Missouri has developed a method of transferring an energy source to virtually any shape. The efficient laser-writing technique can be used to help smartphone manufacturers fabricate energy storage units such as microbatteries and micro fuel cells that are more environmentally friendly, highly designable and thin.

The work has been published in the Journal of Materials Chemistry-A.

In the race to design smaller handheld devices and smartphones, a key factor is decreasing the size of components. As the demand for thinner and lighter microelectronic devices increases, manufacturers often are limited by how oddly shaped the energy sources must become to make them conform to the smaller space.

‘The direct laser writing (DLW) method and technique has seen a rapid advancement in the past decade,’ said Jian Lin, an assistant professor at the MU College of Engineering. ‘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 micro-electronics. 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.’

Lin and his team adapted the DLW method to synthesise and pattern hybrid nanocatalysts, or fuel sources, into complex geometric shapes. Using computer-controlled laser writing that uses higher heat and pressure, the scientists were able to produce a surface that became electrically conducive and also has catalytic functionalities.

‘This is the first step in manufacturing micro fuel cells that convert chemical energy into electrical energy and batteries that can integrate into microcircuits. Also this technique has been proven to produce micro supercapacitors,’ said Lin. ‘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.’