Scientists have been experimenting with paper-based and microbial-powered batteries for quite some time now, demonstrating the potential of such technologies for future use in portable gadgets or to serve bigger purpose of energy delivery in poor regions of the world. Some examples are the paper battery powered by water, developed by Portuguese scientists at CENIMAT, and a microbial-powered battery by US researchers, which cleans polluted waters.
Now, a new study published in the journal Nano Energy, conducted by scientists from Binghamton University, NY, presents the development of a folded paper-battery, which is powered by bacteria and can generate small amounts of electricity through bacterial respiration. It is cheap, it works simply by dropping some water on paper, and it folds following the old Japanese art of origami.
The source of bacteria can be any organic material, while the use of paper replaces the need of expensive pumps or syringes. According to the engineer behind the technology, Seokheun “Sean” Choi, the liquid with bacteria powers the paper-based sensor, and there is no need of any specially engineered nanomaterials, which have brought up the prices of all similar technologies in the past.
Another feature of the battery that makes it very affordable is the fact that the cathode is made of cheap liquid nickel, sprayed onto the side of a normal piece of paper. Following origami paper-folding techniques, the paper is then folded into a 3-D object of the size of a matchbox.
The uses of such technology are many, especially since it is small, portable, functional and most importantly affordable for people in the developing world. According to Choi, the cost to make one of these batteries is 5 cents.
Currently, the paper sensors can only be used in hand-held devices, and for testing only. However, the researcher has already secured the incredible $300,000 for the period of the next three years by the US National Science Foundation. His task is to build a self-powered system, which can independently run the paper bio-sensor.
Image (c) Binghampton University