Yes, you read that right. Thanks to new research by engineer Seokheun Choi at Binghampton University, one man’s trash will now be another man’s renewable resource. The new technology is comprised of an inexpensive, foldable paper battery powered by a single drop of bacteria-containing liquid. It is roughly the size of a matchbook and lends its design to the Japanese art of paper folding, or origami. In addition to being small and chic, this new battery will cost a whopping total of only five cents to make.
The basic principle behind the innovative new power source lies in microbial respiration, the process by which bacteria turn nutrients into energy. Take your average cup of dirty water for example. According to Choi, “any type of organic material can be the source of bacteria for the bacterial metabolism”, and dirty water is teeming with organic matter. Enough matter, in fact, that a single drop can generate enough power to run a paper-based biosensor, an instrument commonly used by healthcare workers in developing countries to identify diseases. Aside from the dirty drop of water, the only other materials needed for this powerful little bacterium battery are paper, nickel, carbon and wax – all non-harmful materials which can be found in ready abundance almost anywhere. In addition to costing only five cents to make, the entire battery is biodegradable and totally harmless to the environment; unlike typical batteries which can potentially leak toxic, harmful chemicals when not disposed of properly. Plus, Choi adds, “We don’t need external pumps or syringes because paper can suck up a solution using capillary force”.
The initial goal of Choi’s research was to develop technology that allowed paper-based biosensors to power themselves. This is especially crucial to individuals working in remote areas with limited access to resources, and could end up being a key part of creating diagnostic tools for disease control and prevention in developing worlds. The US National Science Foundation has already made note of Choi’s achievements and just gave him a three-year grant of $300,000 to continue his work in the area. Meaning soon, this little five cent origami battery could provide cheap and reliable diagnoses to areas that previously could not afford or access the technology. For more on this amazing little invention, you can read the full study in the July issue of the journal Nano Energy.
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