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Bacteria-powered Battery is a Single Sheet of Paper

Lightweight option could revolutionize power in remote areas


January 22, 2017

Seokheun "Sean" Choi/ Binghamton

Foldable, bacteria-powered battery

Researchers at Binghamton University, State University of New York, have created a battery on a single sheet of paper that is powered by the aspiration of bacteria.

The design could revolutionize 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 Assistant Professor Seokheun "Sean" Choi. Choi is in the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department within the Thomas J. Watson School of Engineering and Applied Science, and he is also the director of the Bioelectronics and Microsystems Lab at Binghamton.

On one half of a piece of chromatography paper a ribbon of silver nitrate is placed underneath a thin layer of wax to create a cathode (negative charge). A reservoir out of a conductive polymer on the other half of the paper acts as the anode (positive charge). The paper is folded and a few drops of bacteria-laden liquid are added, then the microbes' cellular respiration powers the thin battery.

"[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," said Choi.

Different folding and stacking methods can alter 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. That is enough power to run biosensors that monitor glucose levels in diabetes patients, detect pathogens in a body or perform other life-saving functions. On the battlefield or in a disaster situation, usability and portability is paramount.

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

Jonathan Cohen/Binghamton University

Seokheun "Sean" Choi, assistant professor of computer and electrical engineering at Binghamton University with his 2016 ninja star battery.

The innovation is Choi's latest step in paper battery development. His team developed its first prototype in 2015, which was a foldable paper battery that resembled a matchbook. In 2016 they unveiled a design that was inspired by a ninja throwing star.

"Among many flexible and integrative paper-based batteries with a large upside, paper-based microbial fuel cell technology is arguably the most underdeveloped," said Choi. "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."

The current work, co-authored by PhD candidate Yang Gao, is available online in the journal Advanced Materials Technologies and will be presented at the IEEE MEMS 2017 conference in Las Vegas, Nevada on Jan. 22-26.


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