e-waste pollutes the environment. Swiss researchers are developing a paper-based disposable battery.
Electronics soon accumulate. Researchers seek new solutions to decrease technological waste. A team has created a disposable battery using paper and other materials. It’s water-activated. The anode and cathode are printed on paper. Water separates the two electrochemical cells (between “m” and “p”).
Traditional electronics, including cables, displays, and batteries, fill landfills with hazardous garbage. Old clamshell phones, air conditioners, and radios are examples of huge e-waste. Other pieces, such disposable electronic medical diagnostic kits, environmental sensors, and smart labels with batteries and other devices, are often neglected.
“Those small batteries offer a significant hazard,” says Dele Ogunseitan, a public health expert at the University of California, Irvine. He also researches green technologies and advises IT businesses. “Nobody cares where batteries go,” he says.
The water-activatable paper battery, reported in “Scientific Reports” by Empa scientists, is comprised of ecologically benign components. This technology might replace low-power devices’ harmful batteries.
Paper battery components are the same as traditional battery components, but packed differently. It has a positively charged cathode, a negatively charged anode, and a conducting electrolyte between them. The new battery’s anode and cathode are printed on paper instead of plastic and metal. Salt-impregnated paper dissolves when wet. Salt water solution is the electrolyte.
The researchers developed their gadget using non-toxic, abundant materials. Gustav Nyström, director of the Laboratory for Cellulosic and Wood Materials and research author, says, “We were certain we’d have something that worked in the end, but the development was far from straightforward.” After attempting hundreds of compositions, the researchers chose graphite ink for the cathode, zinc ink for the anode, and salt-infused paper for the electrolyte.
After drying, the paper is durable. Adding water dissolves the salt and allows electrons to flow. The battery activates after 20 seconds of wet paper. Until the paper dries, it creates 1.2 volts. AA batteries have 1.5 volts. After rewetting the paper, the battery produced 0.5 volts for an hour.
Despite being able to power an alarm clock, disposable paper batteries are unlikely to replace standard AA batteries. Nyström sees a future where batteries are incorporated in diagnostic tests and environmental sensors, together with sustainable displays and packaging.
When such things can be mass-produced is impossible to anticipate. Nystrom claims he’s contacted possible industry partners. He thinks these batteries might be utilized in 2-5 years. He said the device’s performance is excellent enough for many applications. Nyström’s team must design a sustainable battery.