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RFID is the Future for Thin-film & Printable Batteries

Printable and thin-film batteries are emerging technologies that could replace watch-style "button" batteries and other traditional batteries used to power active and semi-active RFID tags, sensors, smart cards and other electronic devices. NanoMarkets predicts $4.6 billion worth of printable and thin-film batteries will power RFID tags by 2015.
Nov 01, 2007This article was originally published by RFID Update.

November 1, 2007—Emerging thin-film and printable batteries power only a few active and semi-active RFID tags today, but increasing RFID use will help the emerging power sources grow into a multibillion dollar industry within 10 years, Lawrence Gasman of market research firm NanoMarkets told RFID Update. This week the firm announced new research that predicts $4.6 billion worth of thin-film and printable batteries will power RFID tags by 2015. Total current printable and thin-film battery sales to all markets probably total less than $15 million.

Thin-film and printable batteries are an alternative to "button" style batteries that are commonly used today to power watches and a variety of electronic devices, components, and sensors. Thin-film and printable batteries can be made from a variety of materials including carbon, lithium, manganese, and zinc that are combined with electrolytes, polymers, or other substrates to create a power-producing chemical reaction.

The LITE*STAR battery by Infinite Power Solutions announced earlier this year is an example of the technology (see New Battery Could Drive Semi-Active RFID Growth). RFID provider PowerID uses printed batteries as a key differentiator in its solutions.

Thin-film and printable batteries provide sufficient power and performance to meet current needs, but production techniques need to improve to make wide-scale commercialization viable, according to Gasman. The batteries can be very thin and lightweight, making them well suited for use on RFID tags and sensors. But today they are not cost competitive with traditional battery types, which has limited adoption to niche products and applications. Gasman estimates many types of thin-film and printable batteries may cost around $10 now, but prices could fall to ten percent of current levels with ten years of increasing adoption.

"Manufacturers are looking for small-volume, high-value-added opportunities," said Gasman. "No one is talking about putting these batteries on RFID tags on soup cans. But in active RFID, if a tag costs 50 bucks, a three-dollar battery doesn't sound so horrible."

"Today thin-film and printable batteries are only produced in very small quantities, and are mostly used in trials. We have identified about two dozen firms developing the technology, and 90 percent of them are targeting RFID as a market," Gasman said.

RFID is an attractive market because it is one of the few markets with the product volume that will enable battery manufacturers to achieve manufacturing efficiencies and significantly reduce product costs. Sensors and smart cards are cited as other potential major markets. The current printable and thin-film battery market faces a chicken-and-egg dilemma even more acute than that in the RFID industry: manufacturers say prices will fall when production volumes rise, but demand won't rise until prices fall.

The battery market should benefit from growing adoption of real-time location system (RTLS) and active RFID technologies, which are thought to be outpacing the overall industry growth rate. Printable and thin-film batteries would also benefit from increased use of RFID smart packaging, which some think could experience explosive growth (see our two-part series, Getting a Read on RFID Smart Packaging and When Will RFID Packaging Get Smart? for an analysis).
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