In medical product development, one of the most vexing problems is that battery technologies have not kept pace with advances in electronics and computing power. We have been able to pack an immense amount of function into medical devices that are miniscule. But the battery required to power these devices remains heavy and bulky. Often the battery comprises most of the product form.
There are a number of promising technologies that might replace traditional batteries as power sources, supercapacitors and graphene among them.
Now comes word of powerful microbatteries that have been developed by researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. In addition to being small (a few millimeters), this new battery design has the capability of providing both high energy and high power, something traditional storage technologies must trade off. For example, capacitors can release energy quickly but can only store a small amount; fuel cells and batteries can store a lot of energy but can only release it slowly. The new battery structure does not have that trade off. What’s more, the 3-dimensional structure of the design can be subtly changed so that the battery can be tuned over a wide range on the power versus energy scale.
If this new battery technology can be successfully commercialized, the ramifications for medical product development are far-reaching. Medical device designers could take full advantage of small scale to create devices that are powerful yet unobtrusive. And that will greatly improve the user experience, which, in a treatment setting, will greatly improve patient compliance.