After years of development in the research lab, thin-film batteries may finally be ready for widespread commercialization. The devices are appealing to many manufacturers because they feature customizable shapes, flexible form factors and ultra-low weight that enables new functionality to be added to a broad range of products.

Recent advances in materials for substrates, such as anode and cathode components, is spurring new products from battery manufacturers like Cymbet Corp. (Elk River, MN), Infinite Power Solutions (Golden, CO) and Oak Ridge Micro-Energy Inc. (Oak Ridge, TN). NanoMarkets (Glen Allen, VA) predicts that the thin-film battery market will reach $5.6 billion by 2015.

“Thin-film batteries are smaller, safer and more environmentally friendly than conventional batteries, and they also have longer lifetimes,” says Elaine Chan, a research analyst at Frost & Sullivan Inc. (San Antonio). “There is a growing interest to replace conventional batteries, such as coin cells, with thin-film batteries in applications such as RFID tags, sensors, smart cards and labels, as well as portable devices. In the medical sector, thin-film batteries could be used for powering diagnostic devices, medical sensors and medical implants.”

Ongoing research in thin-film battery technology includes improved and cost-effective deposition techniques. Developments also involve advances in nanomaterials that will encourage the creation of next-generation materials with potential use in thin-film batteries and components.

Thin-film batteries are, however, considerably more expensive than conventional batteries due to their high manufacturing costs. “For market success, the technology needs to progress to a degree where it can compete with coin cells technologies on price as well as performance characteristics,” says Chan.

“Thin-film battery components are prepared by deposition techniques, such as those used in the semiconductor industry,” adds Chan. “It remains to be seen whether the ideal cost-effective production mechanism can be quickly achieved. Once low-cost thin-film batteries can be manufactured, the technology will most likely replace conventional batteries in their applications.”