It's fascinating to watch the future emerge, piece by piece. Organic polymer electronic materials are very appealing, from a WorldChanging perspective: they contain few or no toxic metals, meaning that they are far less damaging to the environment; in many cases, they can be produced through standard "ink-jet" style printing processes, making them prime candidates for use in fabricators; and, because they are so flexible, they have applications far beyond what can be easily done with current electronics. In the past, we've looked at organic polymer solar panels, electronic circuits, and displays. Now we get to add batteries to the mix.
NEC's new "organic radical battery" technology uses a gel as its core material, allowing the final battery to be extremely flexible and thin -- the demonstration unit is 300 microns (0.3 mm) thick -- not much thicker than a typical business card. NEC claims that the battery can be fully recharged in 30 seconds; this isn't as much of a big deal as it sounds, as the power density of the battery is fairly low, just 1 milliwatt-hour (mWh) per square centimeter.
Such limited power is typical of organic polymer electronics. Organic polymer solar cells, for example, are at best around 5 or 6% efficient (compared to 25-35% for traditional silicon panels), and the organic polymer circuit mentioned above is limited to around 600 kilohertz -- or less than one-tenth of one percent as fast as this two-year-old laptop I'm writing on now.
For now, organic polymer electronics are likely to appear primarily in devices like sensors, RFID tags and "smart" building materials. But the technology keeps improving, and smart industrial designers are already thinking about what they could do with power, processors and displays as flexible as paper.