In remote areas of the world or in regions with limited resources, everyday items like electrical outlets and batteries are luxuries. Health care workers in these areas often lack electricity to power diagnostic devices, and commercial batteries may be unavailable or too expensive. New power sources are needed that are low-cost and portable. Today, researchers report a new type of battery -- made of paper and fueled by bacteria -- that could overcome these challenges.
The researchers will present their results today at the 256th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS).
"Paper has unique advantages as a material for biosensors," says Seokheun (Sean) Choi, Ph.D., who is presenting the work at the meeting. "It is inexpensive, disposable, flexible and has a high surface area. However, sophisticated sensors require a power supply. Commercial batteries are too wasteful and expensive, and they can't be integrated into paper substrates. The best solution is a paper-based bio-battery."
Researchers have previously developed disposable paper-based biosensors for cheap and convenient diagnosis of diseases and health conditions, as well as for detecting contaminants in the environment. Many such devices rely on color changes to report a result, but they often aren't very sensitive. To boost sensitivity, the biosensors need a power supply. Choi wanted to develop an inexpensive paper battery powered by bacteria that could be easily incorporated into these single-use devices.
The paper battery, which can be used once and then thrown away, currently has a shelf-life of about four months. Choi is working on conditions to improve the survival and performance of the freeze-dried bacteria, enabling a longer shelf life. "The power performance also needs to be improved by about 1,000-fold for most practical applications," Choi says. This could be achieved by stacking and connecting multiple paper batteries, he notes. Choi has applied for a patent for the battery and is seeking industry partners for commercialization.
The researchers acknowledge support and funding from the National Science Foundation, the Office of Naval Research and the Research Foundation for the State University of New York.
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