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Disposable paper battery is activated by a drop of tap water

Small, cheap batteries could power a host of electronic devices, such as package sniffers, environmental monitors, and sensors used in health care.


28 July 2022

The paper battery can power an alarm clock.

Alexander Paulin

A battery made of paper coated with graphite and zinc powder can provide power for a variety of small disposable electronic devices, with possible uses in real-time delivery tracking, environmental monitoring, and even inexpensive medical sensors. Batteries are inactive while dry, but produce current when water is added.

gustav nystrom at the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology (EMPA) and his colleagues took a rectangular strip of paper and printed it with an ink containing graphite flakes on one side to act as a cathode. On the reverse, they printed with an ink containing zinc powder, which acts as the anode.

The strip of paper itself is impregnated with salt to create an electrolyte, but until a drop of water is added, it won’t work. As soon as the paper gets wet, the electrons start flowing and can power small devices.

In experiments, the researchers created a battery from two paper cells and successfully powered an alarm clock with a liquid crystal display at 2.4 volts. The battery produced current only 20 seconds after adding two drops of water.

The battery ran for an hour before the power dropped sharply as the paper dried naturally. After adding another drop of water, it worked for another hour. The researchers say that the amount of zinc deposited on the paper will determine the battery’s capacity and that this can be adjusted for different applications.

Paper and zinc are biodegradable and would also be recyclable with the proper processes.

Nyström says batteries could power devices that track packages in real time, making supply chains more efficient, or help recycle food packaging by powering devices that provide accurate information about the materials used in the package at the end. of its useful life.

With such low power output, “you shouldn’t be thinking about fancy applications,” he says. “But we have had developments with sensors that reduce energy consumption more and more. So what I see is that these two things come together so that we can do some useful things, even with the simplest systems, even for industrial applications.”

Magazine reference: scientific reports, DOI: 10.1038/s41598-022-15900-5

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