This biodegradable paper battery could be what the Earth needs right now

9 Aug 2018

Image: petrmalinak/Shutterstock

With sustainability now a priority, a new biodegradable paper battery could be one of the most important breakthroughs yet.

Towards the end of last year, the UN warned of the increasing and dangerous amount of electronic waste being thrown out at the expense of the environment.

Now, one of the biggest contributors to electronic waste pollution could one day soon be completely biodegradable thanks to a breakthrough achieved by a team from Binghamton University in the US.

In a paper published to the journal Advanced Sustainable Systems, the team revealed a design for a biodegradable, paper-based battery that is more efficient than previously thought possible.

Despite there having been excitement in the scientific community about the possibility of paper-based batteries as an eco-friendly alternative, proposed designs were never powerful enough for typical use.

On top of that, they were difficult to produce and some even doubted whether they were truly biodegradable.

This latest battery, however, uses a hybrid of paper and engineered polymers – key to giving it biodegrading properties.

“There’s been a dramatic increase in electronic waste and this may be an excellent way to start reducing that,” said Seokheun Choi of the team.

“Our hybrid paper battery exhibited a much higher power-to-cost ratio than all previously reported paper-based microbial batteries.”

Low-cost and flexible

After putting a prototype design in water, the battery clearly biodegraded without the requirements of special facilities, conditions or introduction of other microorganisms.

What makes the researchers even more optimistic is that the polymer-paper structures are lightweight, low-cost and – most importantly – flexible.

“Power enhancement can be potentially achieved by simply folding or stacking the hybrid, flexible paper-polymer devices,” Choi said.

This isn’t the first eco-friendly battery to be revealed this year as, back in March, a team from the University of Texas at Dallas showed off a high-powered, environmentally safer lithium-sulphur battery substitute.

The breakthrough was made after discovering that a metallic element called molybdenum – thinner than the silk of a spider web – creates greater power density, making lithium-sulphur batteries more commercially viable.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic