A New Stretch and Wash-Capable Battery Could Substantially Upgrade Wearable Devices

It's already survived 39 washes!
Loukia Papadopoulos

Last month, we brought you news of a novel membrane — or triboelectric fabric — capable of generating power from body motion while maintaining the flexibility and breathability of modern clothing. The material could potentially find itself a place in the future of wearables.

Now, University of British Columbia (UBC) researchers have created what could be the world's first battery that is both stretchable and washable, working even when twisted or extended to twice its normal size and after being thrown in the laundry for a full cycle, according to a UBC press release.

“Wearable electronics are a big market and stretchable batteries are essential to their development,” said in a statement Dr. Ngoc Tan Nguyen, a postdoctoral fellow at UBC’s faculty of applied science. “However, up until now, stretchable batteries have not been washable. This is a critical addition if they are to withstand the demands of everyday use.”

How did Dr. Nguyen and his team build such a device? They took the key compounds of a battery (zinc and manganese dioxide) and crushed them into small pieces that they inserted in a rubbery plastic. They then took many of these ultra-thin layers of plastics and wrapped them inside a casing of the same polymer.

The design is damage-proof as it creates an airtight, waterproof seal that ensures the integrity of the battery through repeated use even in rough conditions such as a laundry machine cycle. So far, the battery has survived 39 wash cycles in mint condition. These washes were undertaken in both home and commercial-grade washing machines and saw the batteries come out intact and fully functional.