Scientists Created A Biodegradable Paper Battery — Just Add Water!

Oct 16, 2022by Olivia Harper - F&F

Thrown-away electronics are stacking up fast — motivating researchers to innovate creative ways to reduce trash, known as e-waste. Now, scientists have crafted a water-activated disposable battery made of paper, and it turns on with droplets of water!

Battery WasteBattery Waste

Image: Kzenon / Canva 

This New Device May Help Reduce Electronic Waste!

Today electronics are used for more purposes than ever, and our increased use of technology has major environmental impacts, especially with battery technology.

Batteries sent to landfill can release toxic chemicals into the ground, such as mercury, cadmium, lead, and nickel — and these have disastrous effects on our water supply. Researchers at the Cellulose & Wood Materials Laboratory at the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology (EMPA) have innovated a solution to this!

They’ve crafted a new water-activated paper battery made from environmentally friendly materials. This could present a sustainable alternative to the more toxic batteries that are common in low-power devices. So how does the battery work?

How Does A Water-Powered Paper Battery Work?

Sustainable materials were a prerequisite for the scientists, who only considered nontoxic and abundant ingredients to create this device. The battery is formed using a 3D printer which prints the battery using a recipe of carbon, cellulose, glycerin, and table salt!

It has a positively charged cathode, a negatively charged anode, and a conductive electrolyte between the two. Instead of plastic or metal, in the new battery, the anode and cathode are inks printed onto the piece of paper. That paper is infused with salt, which dissolves when the paper is dampened with water, allowing electrons to flow. The battery can store electricity for hours, and has been used to power a small digital clock in a prototype!

Empa ScientistEmpa Scientist

Image: EMPA 

The Potential To Revolutionise Devices With Paper Batteries

This battery has the potential to revolutionise how devices are powered! It can endure thousands of charge cycles, be stored for years without use, and handle freezing temperatures. It’s also shock and pressure resistant. When the battery is no longer needed, it can be simply put into a compost bin. Within two months it will have completely broken down!

Dr Nystrom said, "We're really excited about this technology, which is an example of sustainable materials-driven research… that can be combined into systems that help solve important functions in our society while being safe for the environment.”

Scientists envision a future where these batteries are used in medical diagnostic tests, smart packaging, and environmental sensing devices. That future may not be so far off!

What do you think about this paper battery? We love that this device is biodegradable and non-toxic, and we hope to see these batteries being used in real-world applications in the future! 

For more stories about sustainable innovations, check out our Eco News category and the blogs below.

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