How Power Paper Will Work

Power Paper has developed an ultra-thin battery that can generate 1.5 volts of power.
Power Paper has developed an ultra-thin battery that can generate 1.5 volts of power.
Photo courtesy Power Paper

It's amazing to watch as computers and other everyday electronic devices become thinner and thinner. Soon a laptop computer could be as thin as a sheet of paper. We'll just fold up our handheld computers and stick them in our back pocket. New innovations like electronic ink are making this vision of the future a possibility that soon could be realized.

Yet, as new technologies are slimming down the size of electronic devices, power supplies have not slimmed down at the same pace. Power Paper, an Israel-based company, has recognized the need for a thinner power source that will not only power electronic devices, but also fit into disposable devices like games, greeting cards, smart cards, luggage tags and some medical devices. And as Power Paper is looking for companies to license its paper-thin battery technology to, it is already developing disposable products using the technology that will debut in the second half of 2001.

With the development of computerized clothing, wearable computers and disposable cell phones, this ultra-thin battery technology is likely to have widespread applications. In this edition of How Stuff Will Work, you'll learn how these paper-thin batteries work and how they could soon be powering a variety of everyday products.

Printable Batteries

A Power Paper cell integrated with a sheet of paper
A Power Paper cell integrated with a sheet of paper
Image courtesy Power Paper

The near future promises to bring us books that will be filled with digital paper, which will display the text of any book we wish to read. These books, printed with electronic ink, will be able to alternate between many texts at the push of a button. Within the ink printed on these digital pages will be tiny microprocessors and circuits that perform various functions. Also embedded in this ink will be the components of tiny, paper-thin batteries called Power Paper.

Power Paper will work exactly like a traditional battery, but it will be nearly as thin as a piece of paper. A Power Paper cell can generate 1.5 volts of electricity, which is about the same output as a watch or calculator battery. A Power Paper cell will be 0.5 millimeters thick, and several cells can be used in combination to provide more power. Here's how the Power Paper cell will work:

  • A zinc and manganese dioxide (MnO2) -based cathode and anode are fabricated from proprietary inks. In a battery, the cathode refers to the positive terminal and the anode refers to the negative terminal.
  • Standard silkscreen printing presses are used to print the batteries onto paper and other substrates.
  • Power Paper batteries are integrated into production and assembly processes of thin electronic devices.

Power Paper batteries are printed directly onto thin substrates, such as paper, so they are far more flexible than any other battery. Because ink is used to produce Power Paper, the batteries are considered dry, and don't need the metal casing that conventional batteries do to contain harmful, toxic chemicals. This lack of casing allows electronics manufacturers to utilize the power source in many shapes and sizes. Since it doesn't require special production equipment, Power Paper can be made outside of clean- or dry-room conditions, which lowers production costs. Power Paper batteries can be produced for a mere 1 cent per square inch.

Power Paper Products

There are already several products available that Power Paper batteries can be integrated with; and with devices becoming increasingly smaller, the market for thin power sources is huge. It's really the new devices that are yet to be developed that will make the most use of this new technology. Because Power Paper batteries are made with ink, and don't need a casing, there's no limitation as to the shape or size of the battery. Currently, there are several applications for these Power Paper batteries, including:

  • Smart cards and tags - Power Paper batteries can be laminated onto smart cards and other micro-devices and replace ordinary tickets and tags. It is possible that tickets to major sporting events could use this technology to limit counterfeiting. And imagine a ticket that could not only grant you admission, but also give you directions to your seat!
  • Disposable medical devices - Single-use delivery and diagnostic devices could have Power Paper incorporated into their construction to allow for sensors and smart labels.
  • Electronic games and entertainment devices - The possibilities are endless for using Power Paper batteries in novelty items, baseball cards, greeting cards and lottery tickets. Labels on just about any product could become interactive.

Power Paper expects to form joint ventures and licensing agreements with companies in these markets. The company says that manufacturers can integrate the technology into their manufacturing process, making it a seamless addition to their products. You can expect to see devices using Power Paper batteries by the end of 2001.

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