Thermoelectric technology was created as an innovative, environmentally friendly way to harvest heat and convert it into energy. With that being said, there is always room for improvement.
Our Earth and its resources are finite and fragile, and it is imperative to make our best effort at conservation. Scientists are constantly looking for ways to improve the sustainability, eco-friendliness, and simplicity of existing and future technologies.
While thermoelectric energy harvesting is better for our environment than many other alternatives, TEGs still utilize heavy metals and polymers that are not biodegradable, and in some cases are even toxic. Scientists have been busy discovering ways to create biodegradable energy sources.
Recently, an associate professor, Seokheun Choi, and his colleagues at the State University of New York at Binghamton engineered a paper-based, single-use battery that relies on bacteria to not only generate an electrical current, but also break down and eliminate the battery once it reaches the end of its life.
As described on IEEE Spectrum, “To create the battery, the research team placed freeze-dried ‘exoelectrogens’ on paper. They explain that exoelectrogens are a type of bacteria that can transfer electrons outside of their cells. The electrons pass through the cell membrane and make contact with external electrodes to power the battery”.
The bacteria is able to stick to the paper within the pours and is able to generate its own energy by breaking down organic material. In Choi’s case, he added wastewater and saliva to the batteries.
Although the battery currently only produces a maximum power of 4 µW/cm2 and a current density of 26 µA/cm2, it shows vast improvement and proves the potential that paper-based batteries has for eventual commercial use.
Moving forward, Choi plans to improve conditions to extend the shelf life of the freeze-dried bacteria. Additionally, he is seeking industry partners and has applied for a patent. He claims that these batteries can be particularly useful in remote areas with limited resources, as the bacteria used can survive in extreme conditions and can break down virtually any material.
You can learn more about Choi’s paper-based batteries, here.
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