While it’s often said that airing dirty laundry in public is bad news, your dirty water is about to become a different matter altogether. There’s more than just good news; in fact, contained within the disgusting, bacteria-laden muddiness of wastewater, there’s good energy too. And it comes in the form of a 3D printed battery inspired by origami–folded into a stackable, paper device now being developed by one very resourceful researcher at Binghamton University in New York.
Seokheun “Sean” Choi, an assistant professor at Binghamton, is responsible for focusing in on something that often holds our culture–and many others–hostage. Most of us enjoy modern advancements but often bemoan the need for more innovative and lasting battery power. And while it would certainly be nice to have a more efficient and seamless smartphone or laptop battery system, the reality is that when we take a break from our first-world problems and gain some perspective, it’s hard to beat the progressive technology we enjoy today as a whole with numerous electronic and technological hubs found around nearly any locale (including the car) to plug in and get back online without much duress.
For developing countries though, battery power and energy are obviously another story altogether. Choi, with a combination of genius and magic, has woven origami and energy together in a super eco-friendly new medium for energy that may serve as a great device out in the field for diagnostics in remote locations. Featuring a low-watt and low-cost 3D printed paper battery that can fold up into a package as small as a matchbook, Choi says he can develop his new work for as little as five cents a battery.
Co-developer Hankeun Lee, a former Binghamton undergraduate, also helped Choi author a recent paper on the subject, ‘An Origami Paper-Based Bacteria-Powered Battery.’ The paper was featured in the July issue for Nano Energy.
Generated from microbial respiration found in wastewater systems, the two reported the details in their paper on how they managed to make a fully functioning battery with a simple air cathode functioning with activated carbon.
“The battery is capable of generating power from microbial metabolism, delivering on-board energy to the next generation of paper-based systems with one drop of bacteria-containing liquid derived from renewable and sustainable water and wastewater sources (e.g. wastewater, municipal wastes, biomass and watershed) that are readily accessible in the local environment,” state Choi and Lee in their paper.
Just as origami brings paper to life, Choi and Lee may very well be able to bring various processes to life out in the field where battery power–and resources altogether–are scarce. The ancient technology of origami has been responsible for centuries in allowing scientists and engineers to create prototypes which can then be later relayed into more durable, concrete, and larger forms.
The principles of the Japanese artwork both translate well into and inspire further creativity in digital design and 3D printing, and we have followed stories previously regarding innovations inspired by the intricate paper engineering from 3D printed RF antennas to artful 3D printed fingernails.
For the purposes of the bacteria-driven battery though, the researchers used the inspiration of origami to help with the folding application unique to this lightweight device, operating with pre-defined creases. The wastewater bacteria cultures were inserted into ‘two common inlets’ within the folds, and then funneled into the battery–which once exposed to air, led to the appropriate cathodic reactions needed to create energy. The cathode is created by spraying a nickel ink-like substance onto am ordinary piece of office paper, while the anode itself is printed with carbon paints, which then creates a hydrophilic zone with boundaries consisting of wax.
“Dirty water has a lot of organic matter,” Choi says. “Any type of organic material can be the source of bacteria for the bacterial metabolism.”
The project has received a substantial three-year research grant of $300,000 from the National Science Foundation for further development.
What are you thoughts on this 3D printed paper battery and it’s significance for diagnostic procedures in remote outposts? Discuss in the 3D Printed Paper Battery forum over at 3DPB.com.