Inspired by the concept of folded objects created through the art of origami, a pair of researchers from Binghamton University has discovered a way to create foldable batteries made from paper.
Engineers Seokheun "Sean" Choi and Hankeun Lee developed a low-cost method to turn paper into a bacteria-powered battery.
This new invention makes use of microbial respiration to produce substantial energy to power a paper-based biosensor. All it needs is a single drop of liquid containing bacteria to initiate the process.
"Dirty water has a lot of organic matter," Choi explained. "Any type of organic material can be the source of bacteria for the bacterial metabolism."
Experts view the new energy-generating process as beneficial to people working in highly remote areas where access to electricity and other resources are limited.
Scientists working on various relief efforts, such as disease prevention and control, in developing countries could use the technology in making diagnostic tools since paper is considered as readily available and inexpensive.
"Paper is cheap and it's biodegradable," Choi added. "And we don't need external pumps or syringes because paper can suck up a solution using capillary force."
Choi said that the goal of their research is to someday produce a self-powered system wherein a paper-based battery could generate substantial power to operate their biosensor. The researchers have been awarded a grant by the National Science Foundation worth $300,000 in order to continue their development of the bacteria-powered battery.
The bacteria-powered battery utilizes an air-breathing cathode constructed from inexpensive materials. One of the materials used was nickel, which the researchers placed on one side of a regular paper.
Its anode is made from screen printed with carbon-based paints, which results in a hydrophilic zone with boundaries of wax.
Its foldable design allows the Choi's battery to be bent into a matchbook-sized square.
The entire production of the foldable bacteria-powered battery costed the Binghamton engineers only five cents.
Choi, who earned his undergraduate and master's degree in South Korea, received his doctorate from Arizona State University. He joined the faculty of Binghamton University as an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering around three years ago. He currently holds two patents in the United States.
Choi recounted how he first came up with the idea for the foldable battery. He said that he was working on a prior version of the paper-based battery when he was able to power a small LED by connecting four devices in a series.
The Binghamton University study is featured in the journal Nano Energy.