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Paper-based battery to power small electronics?

Researchers at Binghamton University have created a working bacteria-powered battery which can be used to power small or disposable electronic devices. What makes this creation even more impressive is that it was made on a single sheet of paper. The bio-battery’s design could reduce fabrication time as well as bring down the cost of production.

Assistant professor Seokheun Choi, part of the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department at the Thomas J. Watson School of Engineering and Applied Science, commented on the invention in a press release.

“Papertronics have recently emerged as a simple and low-cost way to power disposable point-of-care diagnostic sensors,” said Choi, who is also the director of the Bioelectronics and Microsystems Lab at Binghamton.

“Stand-alone and self-sustained, paper-based, point-of-care devices are essential to providing effective and life-saving treatments in resource-limited settings,” he continued.

Choi, along with PhD candidate Yang Gao (who is also the co-author of the research paper) created the cathode by placing silver nitrate beneath a thin layer of wax. They then created a reservoir from a conductive polymer on the other half of the page. This then served as their anode. When the page was folded correctly and bacteria-filled liquid was applied, it caused the microorganism to respirate on a cellular level, powering the battery.

Paper-based bio-batteries could be the future of small disposable electronics

“The device requires layers to include components, such as the anode, cathode and PEM (proton exchange membrane),” said Choi. “[The final battery] demands manual assembly, and there are potential issues such as misalignment of paper layers and vertical discontinuity between layers, which ultimately decrease power generation.”

Due to different power outputs when folding the paper in various ways, scientists found that different methods can also increase the output of power and not just decrease it. According to their research, they were able to produce 31.51 microwatts at 125.53 microamps using six batteries in three parallel series. They then went further and produced 44.85 microwatts at 105.89 microamps in a 6×6 formation.

Even though these small outputs in a small configuration aren’t enough to power a standard light bulb, they are capable of powering bio-sensors and other small life-saving devices.

“Among many flexible and integrative paper-based batteries with a large upside, paper-based microbial fuel cell technology is arguably the most underdeveloped,” said Choi.

“We are excited about this because microorganisms can harvest electrical power from any type of biodegradable source, like wastewater, that is readily available. I believe this type of paper biobattery can be a future power source for papertronics,” he concluded.