Formulating and Manufacturing Low Profile Integrated Batteries for Wireless Sensing Labels

Lead Research Organisation: University of Kent
Department Name: Sch of Engineering & Digital Arts


We seek to create conformal sensors unlike existing electronics that exploit the ultra-thin form factor achieved by additive manufacture to offer flexible labels with sensing, wireless communication and energy harvesting to charge entirely integrated batteries. To achieve this, we must re-engineer antennas and batteries (the largest devices in wireless systems and which suffer poor efficiency from close integration). Our battery-assisted labels will be printed using sustainable inks with reclaimable materials for the circular economy. They will communicate at distances greater than passive alternatives and enable 'on object' or 'on-skin' monitoring, e.g. of atmospheric vapours or medical testing. Successful outcomes will provide unprecedented data from attach-and-forget smart labels that can be customised by overprinting with different sensing films. To achieve this our team of leading Wireless, Battery Formulation, and Digital Manufacturing researchers, will combine with the UK National Catapult for Printed Electrics.

Previous battery-free (passive) UHF RFID based tag sensors proposed for smart connected ecosystems are inherently limited in their functionality (e.g. no data logging or analog to digital interface) and the communication range is a few metres or less. This limitation arises through the need to harvest sufficient power. A battery would overcome the range and functionality limitations, but at the cost of overall bulk due to battery volume, including holder size , and the physical separation needed between the conducting battery casing and the antenna in order to maintain radiation efficiency. Also, there are serious implications for the end of life of millions of pervasive sensing labels containing the materials commonly used in battery formulation. With these constraints and the expectation of interconnecting separate components, it will never be possible to produce truly thin label-like power-assisted electronics.

The labels we propose will be inherently low energy in operation, but integrated battery assistance will make possible many potential applications including bio-sensing, pharma smart monitoring & patient compliance, security, industrial and domestic chemical, temperature, & power monitoring, and enable encryption in emerging big data nodes for Smart Connected Systems. To ensure deliverable outputs in this work, we will focus on creating proof of concept vapour sensing tags to address two identified needs.

1. We will develop labels to sense air pollution which is well known to reduce quality of life and attacks infrastructure through acid rain.
2. We will create atmospheric sensing labels for industrial processes and product testing as identified by our partner Givaudan.

The team of RFID engineers, functional materials scientists, inkjet experts and the national Catapult for printed electronics will engineer efficient antennas on battery substrates, demonstrate ultrathin battery chemistries, suitable for additive manufacture that offer performance similar to commercial coin cells, create inks to print thin film Nitrogen Oxide sensors, create prototype sensing wireless labels by inkjet printing, and produce test runs of the devices using commercial roll-to-roll techniques. Our designs will be integrated into a demonstrator system that can read the tags and display results in an accessible way.

Planned Impact

Our outputs will be translatable to many areas of industrial atmospheric & chemical process monitoring, hazard detection, pharmaceutical storage environment monitoring and patient compliance, defence and security, government and domestic environmental quality assessment, medical diagnosis and health & social care monitoring.

Translational pathways: Economy: Industrialists recently attending events organised by the proposers include food scent and fragrance multinationals (Givaudan), air quality monitoring (Dover Harbour Board), healthcare providers (East Kent Hospitals and Great Ormond Street Children's Hospital), medical device manufacturers (TROZON X and Smith Medical), and agriculturalists (East Malling Research). Additionally, Manchester runs up to 100 industry focused events each year, these are of different scales and involve trade associations and KTNs. We will continue our discussions through these events to maximise the relevance and exposure of our project outputs and showcase our system demonstrator at tradeshows and professional events to connect with industry including PragmatIC and PEL. The partners will also use the Henry Royce institute as a potential pathway to industry through the dual thematic strands of energy storage and additive manufacture. SGY is a board member of Royce@manchester and will facilitate these interactions.

An initial IP agreement will be made between the participating UK and Italian investigators. All the proposers have patents (applied for or granted) and we will work with UMIP and KIE (University of Manchester Intellectual Property and Kent Innovation and Enterprise), together with CPI, all of whom have a strong track record in bringing innovative products to market. We appreciate that suites of related IP are more attractive as a commercial proposition than individual patents, and this will be reflected in our strategy which may involve licensing IP if most appropriate. CPI has a strong track record with UK and EU industry with over 150 collaborations with UK companies in this field, and an extensive cluster of local electronic companies.

Translational pathways: Battery Technology: UoK is member of European energy storage research network 'Alistore-ERI', currently consisting of 17 academic and 10 industrial partners. The companies range from battery manufacture (SAFT) to users (e.g. Renault, BASF and Bosh), recycling (UMICORE) and materials developers (SOLVAIONIC). We will present results at bi-annual Alistore-ERI meetings, in the presence of industrial partners as likely adopters. Also, our partner DSTL will provide supply chain and manufacturing companies contacts that can assist in the production of the final prototype, including QINETIC.

Translational pathways: Sensing Materials: NOx sensing is important in industrial production and transport. Stricter industrial NOx EU regulation (Paris convention 2014), has resulted in cities banning diesel vehicles not compliant with Euro6 regulations and in response, our contacts at Johnson-Matthey are developing NOx sensing and active DeNOx materials. Atmospheric sensing is also of major interest to ports and councils dealing with marine transport, which is associated with diesel heavy goods vehicles, and also marine shipping which is a major emitter of diesel pollution. In recognition of the importance of port atmospheric monitoring, the Port of Dover will provide exposure via our other joint projects to the bodies that will require the use of pollution sensing tags.

Outreach: we propose a series of events with local schools and at the national Big Bang fair to excite future manufacturing professionals to enter the sector.

Knowledge: The techniques and scientific advances from our new generation sensors will impact on many areas and the project PDRAs will be of high value for companies involved in enabling R&D and that this project will provide training for future staff for the advanced materials industry.


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Jacob NK (2018) An Exploration of Behind-the-Ear ECG Signals From a Single Ear Using Inkjet Printed Conformal Tattoo Electrodes. in Conference proceedings : ... Annual International Conference of the IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society. IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society. Annual Conference

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Ullah I (2020) RFID AC Current Sensing Technique in IEEE Sensors Journal

Description MultiSense - Devising and Manufacturing mm-Wave High Data Rate Low Latency On-Skin Technologies
Amount £1,200,000 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/S020160/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 07/2019 
End 06/2022
Description CPI 
Organisation Centre for Process Innovation (CPI)
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Awareness raising of future fabrication demands for new sensing technologies.
Collaborator Contribution Access to facilities and advice to towards eventual transfer of research outputs to manufacturing trials. Free access to residential Printed Electronics training programme - 3 team members trained. Expert advice on ink formulation and bio-resorbable materials (conducting and non-conducting). Issuing of press release.
Impact Multidisciplinary between antenna engineering and manufacturing.
Start Year 2016
Description Special Session on Radio frequency Identification for Bodycentric Networks: wearable, epidermal and implantable systems at 2019 IEEE International Conference on RFID Technology and Applications 
Organisation University of Rome Tor Vergata
Department Pervasive Electromagnetics Lab
Country Italy 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution We are co-organising a workshop to bring together leaders in all aspects of RFID for Body Centric networks for skin mounting and implants. Our contribution is as joint proposers, organisers and contributors.
Collaborator Contribution Our partners are joint proposers, organisers and contributors.
Impact Ongoing.
Start Year 2019
Description Workshop on Bio-Integrated Flexible and Stretchable Electronics for Skin Sensor Network 
Organisation University of Rome Tor Vergata
Department Pervasive Electromagnetics Lab
Country Italy 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution A joint workshop held at the international IEEE BSN conference 2019 held in Chicago. This workshop will include the leaders in Skin Sensor Networks and act as mechanism to disseminate findings. Our contribution will be 'Printable RFID Technologies for Sensing Applications for Epidermal Mounting or Prosthesis Integration.
Collaborator Contribution Opportunity to integrate with leaders in passive wireless sensing for bio-medical applications.
Impact Ongoing
Start Year 2019
Description Manufacturing Activity at the National Big Bang Science Fair 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact The activity presents the contrast between traditional first Industrial Revolution factory based mass production and state of the art 4th Industrial Revolution dynamically printed technology. As well as providing an engaging and accessible challenge, the activity is designed to raise awareness in young people that engineering and manufacturing are significant sectors in the UK economy and that a significant increase in the relevantly skilled future work force is required. Participants schools are logged and discussion is provoked throughout the activity.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017,2018,2019