Spit-powered, paper-based battery

Author : Adri Kruger, LabVIEW Product Manager

08 August 2017

Credit: Binghamton University | New York State

The next step in microbial fuel cells sees a battery activated by spit, which can even function in extreme conditions where normal batteries can't.

Researchers at Binghamton University, State University of New York have created a bacteria-powered battery on a single sheet of paper that can power disposable electronics.

The manufacturing technique reduces fabrication time and cost, and the design could revolutionise the use of bio-batteries as a power source in remote, dangerous and resource-limited areas.

"Papertronics have recently emerged as a simple and low-cost way to power disposable point-of-care diagnostic sensors," said research lead and assistant professor Seokheun Choi.

"Stand-alone and self-sustained, paper-based, point-of-care devices are essential to providing effective and life-saving treatments in resource-limited settings," said Choi.

"The device requires layers to include components, such as the anode, cathode and PEM (proton exchange membrane)," said Choi. "[The final battery] demands manual assembly, and there are potential issues such as misalignment of paper layers and vertical discontinuity between layers, which ultimately decrease power generation."

Different folding and stacking methods can significantly improve power and current outputs. Scientists were able to generate 31.51 microwatts at 125.53 microamps with six batteries in three parallel series and 44.85 microwatts at 105.89 microamps in a 6x6 configuration.

"We are excited about this because microorganisms can harvest electrical power from any type of biodegradable source, like wastewater, that is readily available. I believe this type of paper biobattery can be a future power source for papertronics."

Choi, along with research assistant Maedeh Mohammadifar, created such a paper-based, bacteria-powered battery by building microbial fuel cells with inactive, freeze-dried exoelectrogenic cells. These generate power within minutes of adding saliva. The proposed battery generated reliable power from just a drop of saliva, supplying on-board power that could be used by the next generation of disposable, paper-based POC diagnostic platforms.

As the researchers write: "The proposed battery has competitive advantages over other conventional power solutions because the biological fluid for on-demand battery activation is readily available even in the most resource-constrained settings, and the freeze-drying technology enables long-term storage of cells without degradation or denaturation."

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