Flexible, printed and thin film batteries market will soar

30th September 2020
Alex Lynn

One influence of COVID-19 is its change to our lifestyle and perception on healthcare, and batteries need to change to keep up. Social distancing, limited medical resources and more attention to healthcare lead to a move from centralised hospital to remote patient monitoring. In addition, the availability of newly designed devices have expanded human body monitoring and treatment beyond just medical usage, but also on healthcare, fitness and cosmetics.

Those portable/wearable devices require new material development, specialised integrated sensors, and of course, power source innovations, which will be based on special form factors.

Conventional batteries like AA/AAA cylindrical batteries and coin cells are mature, cheap and widely used in many gadgets and devices. However, their bulky shape and large thickness limit their applications in specially designed devices, such as devices that needs to fit the nature curvature of human body. With other device components being designed flexible or made small enough to reduce the discomfort, battery is always a bottleneck to provide both good performance and good user experience.

With this background, the emergence of thin-film, flexible and printed battery can play a significant role. ‘Thin’, ‘flexible’, and ‘printed’ batteries are describing battery features like thickness, mechanical property, and manufacturing method. Sometimes the concepts are overlapping with each other. For instance, when a battery becomes very thin, it can be flexed somehow. A printed battery can be made both thin and flexible.

Skin patch thermometers have been available for a while, such as the TempTraq launched by Blue Spark Technologies, a company initially developed printed disposable carbon-zinc batteries. The patch itself was especially designed to measure the temperature of infants/babies continuously for days without interruption and the temperature readings can be delivered to a smartphone app.

Under the outbreak of COVID-19, such kinds of skin patch can be used for normal temperature monitoring. Enfucell Flexible Electronics has launched a skin-patch thermometer based on a printed battery to be used in hospitals in Wuhan. Skin patches usually require ultra-thin design and in this tag, the whole device varies from 0.4 mm to 1mm thick, with a bending curvature as low as 25 mm. Although asymptomatic cases show no temperature rise, these kinds of tags can still provide useful information to assist the diagnosis.

Temperature skin patches are just one example. Wearable patches can integrate different kinds of sensors, also for drug delivery, cosmetic delivery, chemical measuring, vital sign measuring, etc. The flexible use cases and remote usage scenario indicate a huge potential for new kinds of batteries.

According to IDTechEx Research's report ‘Flexible, Printed and Thin Film Batteries 2020-2030’, the market for thin, flexible and printed batteries will grow to $500 million in 2030. Twenty-three percent of the market share in 2025 accounts for the batteries used in medical/healthcare/fitness/cosmetic products in the form of electronic skin patches.

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