UC Berkeley grads develop printable battery

University of California Research/Courtesy

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UC Berkeley is known to power ideas of all kinds. One newly engineered idea discovered on campus that will be a power source itself is the printable battery.

Imprint Energy is a new startup founded by campus graduates Christine Ho and Brooks Kincaid that has created printable batteries. The design, produced in part due to a $250,000 grant from the university, is seen as a new way for batteries to be produced and disposed of in way a less harmful to the environment.

But how does one print a battery?

“It’s a variety of inks, and in combination they create a battery,” Kincaid said. “There are four to five layers that, once deposited, create the battery.”

Kincaid, who graduated from the Haas School of Business in 2011, explained that the process used is called “screen printing” — the same type of industrial printing that is used to print T-shirts or other high-volume materials. At the moment, it is not possible to print at home, but Kincaid said this could still become a reality in the long term.

“We don’t use heavy metals or seriously toxic materials,” Kincaid said. “We use materials that are widely available and at a low-cost battery technology.”

Professor of metallurgy James Evans, who taught Ho when she was a graduate student studying materials science and engineering, further explained the company’s sustainable nature.

“Normally, (batteries) can’t be recharged,” said Evans, who is also an adviser to the company. “The invention here is a way of making a rechargeable a battery with a zinc electrode work. Because you can recharge it, it has less of an impact on the environment.”

Director of the UC Grants Program Kathleen Erwin said Ho and Kincaid’s invention was one of 13 projects that were awarded yearlong grants starting last September and which will last until August.

Erwin said that Ho and Kincaid put forth a proposal that survived a competitive two-stage process. In the first stage, their proposal was one of 25 chosen by UC and non-UC professors who evaluated the 126 projects proposed last year. In the second stage, their proposal was chosen as one of the final 13 by a panel of impartial venture capitalists, private investors and businesses who evaluated the ideas and selected based on how exciting they appeared.

Ho and Kincaid received a $250,000 grant out of the $2.7 million allocated to the 13 projects. Due to the university funding, the intellectual property rights to the batteries are owned by the university while Ho and Kincaid hold shares, Erwin said.

The startup is currently located in Alameda and employs five people. According to Kincaid, the company is seeking to grow and develop more investors and customers.

The company’s success shows a bridge between technological discoveries and the commercial market that is often hard to realize. According to Kincaid, the company is proof to students that startups in the realm of technology and science can successfully transition into the marketplace.

 “(The company is showing) that there are opportunities to take the innovation in science and tech coming out of UC Berkeley into the real world,” he said. “Startups aren’t restricted to social media, and there are opportunities to get involved in the commercialization of science tech.”