Japanese paper art origami has given birth to a new battery model at Binghamton University where a Korean engineer developed the technique that can be applied to building batteries.
Seokheun “Sean” Choi has developed an inexpensive, bacteria-powered battery made from paper, that generates power from microbial respiration, delivering enough energy to run a paper-based biosensor with nothing more than a drop of bacteria-containing liquid.
“Dirty water has a lot of organic matter,” Choi says. “Any type of organic material can be the source of bacteria for the bacterial metabolism.”
The method is apt for those in rural and remote areas with limited resources, he said. Since paper is inexpensive, and biodegradable, “We don’t need external pumps or syringes because paper can suck up a solution using capillary force.”
The paper-based biosensors have shown promise in diagnostics and Choi envisions a self-powered system in which a paper-based battery would create enough energy — we’re talking microwatts — to run the biosensor.
Choi has received $300,000 to create such a system. Choi’s battery, which folds into a square the size of a matchbook, using air-breathing cathode created with nickel sprayed on one side of any office paper. The anode is screen printed with carbon paints, creating a hydrophilic zone with wax boundaries.
Total cost of the game-changing device is just 5 cents.
Choi, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, earned a doctorate from Arizona State University, already holds two U.S. patents. He has initially collaborated on the paper battery with Hankeun Lee, a former Binghamton undergraduate.
Choi recalls an actual “lightbulb moment” while working on an earlier version of the paper-based batteries, before he tried the origami approach. “I connected four of the devices in series, and I lit up this small LED,” he says. “At that moment, I knew I had done it!”
The research findings have been published in the journal Nano Energy.