The surge in wearable technology has underscored the need for power sources that can keep pace with the flexibility and mobility of these cutting-edge devices. Addressing this demand, researchers have achieved a significant breakthrough by developing a miniature energy storage device capable of stretching, twisting, folding, and wrinkling. This milestone, detailed in the journal npj Flexible Electronics, heralds a new era of truly adaptable and comfortable wearables.

The Challenge: Flexible Needs vs. Brittle Electrodes

As wearables become increasingly prevalent, traditional batteries struggle to meet the demands of soft electronic devices due to their lack of flexibility. Micro supercapacitors (MSCs) have emerged as a promising alternative, offering high power density, rapid charging, and extended lifespan. However, a key obstacle remained: the fabrication of electrodes.

Conventional electrodes, typically made from brittle materials like gold, hinder the device’s ability to deform without compromising performance. On the other hand, eutectic gallium-indium liquid metal (EGaIn) boasts superior conductivity and deformability, but its high surface tension complicates fine patterning—a critical step in creating efficient electrodes.

A Laser-Precise Solution: Pioneering Flexible Power Patterning

Led by Professor Jin Kon Kim and Dr. Keon-Woo Kim from Pohang University of Science and Technology (POSTECH), in collaboration with Dr. Chanwoo Yang and Researcher Seong Ju Park from the Korea Institute of Industrial Technology (KITECH), the research team devised an innovative approach utilizing laser technology.

Their breakthrough lies in successfully laser-patterning both EGaIn and graphene, an active material, on a stretchable substrate composed of polystyrene-block-poly(ethylene-co-butylene)-block-polystyrene copolymer (SEBS). This laser ablation technique offered numerous advantages, ensuring the underlying SEBS substrate remained intact, thereby preserving the device’s flexibility.

Furthermore, tests demonstrated that the device maintained consistent areal capacitance, indicative of its energy storage capacity per unit area, even after enduring 1,000 stretching cycles. Moreover, stable operation was observed under various mechanical deformations, including stretching, folding, twisting, and wrinkling.

Implications for Wearable Tech: Shaping the Future of Flexibility

This groundbreaking achievement carries profound implications for the future of wearable technology. As Professor Jin Kon Kim remarked, “The utilization of laser-patterned liquid metal electrodes marks a significant leap in the advancement of truly deformable energy storage solutions.” This innovation lays the groundwork for the development of comfortable and adaptable wearables that seamlessly integrate into our dynamic lifestyles.

Picture sleeker fitness trackers snugly encircling your wrist during workouts, smart clothing effortlessly moving with you throughout the day, or medical devices conforming to the body for enhanced comfort and personalized experiences. With this pioneering research, the horizon of wearable technology shines brighter and more flexible than ever before.

By Impact Lab