Javier Garcia explains the potential of Flexible Batteries in WEF's 10 Emerging Technologies 2023 report

The World Economic Forum has presented its annual list of 10 Emerging Technologies with the greatest capacity to have a positive impact on the world. Javier García, Director of the Rafael del Pino Foundation's Chair in Science and Society, together with Joseph Costantine, Associate Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, American University of Beirut, participated in the drafting of the transformative potential of one of them, Flexible Batteries.

Flexible batteries

As explained in their chapter, several types of flexible batteries are currently available, which are rechargeable and include lithium-ion or zinc-carbon systems placed in conductive polymer current collectors. In some cases, additives improve conductivity and flexibility. Their electrodes can be coated with, or even printed on, flexible substrates, including carbon-based materials such as graphene, carbon fibres or fabric.

Flexible batteries have applications in a growing number of fields, including wearable medical devices and biomedical sensors, flexible displays and smartwatches. In the case of healthcare, they could transmit data wirelessly to healthcare providers, facilitating remote monitoring of patients. In addition, flexible batteries will be needed that can be integrated into the jacket fabricThe new technology will be used to power emerging textile-based electronics, with capabilities ranging from embedded heating systems to health monitoring.

It is expected that the market of flexible batteries is set to expand rapidly over the next few years. One study forecasts that it will grow by $240.47 million between 2022 and 2027, accelerating at a compound annual growth rate of 22.79% during this period. The main growth drivers are expected to be the increasing demand for portable devices and the growing trend towards miniaturisation and flexibility of electronics.

A number of companies are actively developing and commercialising flexible battery technology, including LG Chem, Samsung SDI, Apple, Nokia, Front Edge Technology, STMicroelectronics, Blue Spark Technologies y Fullriver Battery New Technology. However, there is still room for innovation in this space, and new players are likely to enter the market as technology evolves.

The capacity of flexible batteries to bending, twisting and stretching makes them ideal for use in portable devices. One hurdle to overcome is their safe disposal and recycling, which should occur as the technology and associated applications become circular. Revolutionary advances in flexible battery technologies and the accompanying industries are expected to continue for many years to come.

Together with Flexible Batteries, the other emerging technologies chosen by the World Economic Forum are

-Generative Artificial Intelligence

This year's list would not be complete without mentioning generative AI, a new type of AI capable of generating new and original content by learning from large data sets that catapulted into the public dialogue in late 2022 with the public launch of ChatGPT. Evolving rapidly, generative AI is set to disrupt multiple industries, with applications in education, research and beyond.

-Sustainable aviation fuel

With 2%-3% of annual global CO2 emissions from aviation and no sign of long-haul electric flights, sustainable aviation fuel produced from bio-based (e.g. biomass) and non-bio-based (e.g. CO2) sources could be the answer to decarbonising the aviation industry in the short to medium term.

-Design phages

Phages are viruses that selectively infect specific types of bacteria. Equipped with increasingly sophisticated genetic engineering tools, scientists can now reprogramme phages to infect bacteria of their choice, allowing them to target one type of bacteria in a complex community of co-existing bacterial types, such as plant, animal and human microbiomes. While many of the near-term applications will be in research, there are indications that these 'designer' phages could eventually be used to treat microbiome-associated diseases or eliminate dangerous bacteria in food supply chains.

-Metaverse for Mental Health

In response to the growing mental health crisis, product developers are beginning to create shared virtual spaces to improve mental health. Video games are already being used to treat depression and anxiety, and virtual reality-enabled meditation is on the rise. Combined with next-generation wearable devices that allow the user to feel touch or respond to the user's emotional state, the future metaverse could be ripe for improving mental health.

-Portable plant sensors

Drones and satellites have changed the rules of the game in large-scale farm monitoring that traditionally relied on manual soil testing and visual observations. Now we have a new generation of plant sensors: small, non-invasive devices that individual plants can "wear" to continuously monitor temperature, moisture and nutrient levels. Assuming they can overcome the costs of scaling up, wearable plant sensors could improve plant health and increase yields.

-Space metrics

By combining advanced imaging techniques with the specificity of DNA sequencing, spatial omics allows scientists to "see" biological processes at the molecular level inside cells. By revealing previously unobservable biological structures and events, this powerful new technology is poised to accelerate our understanding of biology and help researchers develop new treatments for complex diseases.

-Flexible neural electronics

Brain-machine interfaces allow direct communication between the brain and external computers. They have potentially transformative applications in medicine and neuroscience, such as the treatment of epilepsy, depression or paralysis. Until now, the technology has relied on rigid electronics and is limited by mechanical and geometrical mismatch with brain tissue. But advances in flexible electronics and more biocompatible materials mean a less invasive and uncomfortable experience for patients. The $ 1.74 billion market for this technology is expected to grow to $ 6.18 billion by the end of the decade.

Sustainable Computing

Data centres consume approximately 1% of the electricity produced globally. Multiple technologies intersect to make the dream of net-zero energy data centres an achievable reality. Together as "sustainable computing" technologies, they include liquid cooling systems, AI analytics and modular data centres that can be co-located with existing power sources, such as methane flares.

-Medical care provided by IA

From diagnostics to drug design, AI has been widely reported to facilitate better healthcare. The application drawn from this report goes one step further and focuses on the role of AI in supporting the entire healthcare system, from monitoring pandemic outbreaks to reducing hospital waiting times by optimising resource allocation.