New Batteries Can Be Made Out of Papers
A sustainable method of living is inevitable for humans, knowing that Earth’s resources are limited. Yet, humans soil the planet we live on and produce waste non-stop that piles up on lands and oceans.
Moreover, with the current technological developments and progress, electronic waste has become another threat by containing contaminants that are damaging to the limited resources we have and the environment, as well as being detrimental to human health (EPA). One of the harmful parts of electronics to the environment is batteries. Since batteries work by converting chemical energy into electrical energy and contain substances (“Are Batteries Hazardous Waste?”), they are considered hazardous wastes. The combination of chemicals can differ depending on the battery (Kattenburg), yet they still contain strong acids and toxic metals (“Battery Recycling Is Important for Environmental Health.”). While they are contained inside their packaging, after being disposed of, the packaging can be damaged or basically be worn away, causing the chemicals to leak. The leaked chemicals then mix with dirt to contaminate the water.
2030, the deadline of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, approaches hastily; and yet we still consume to the point that world overshoot day fell on July 28 this year. This means that we have already consumed the amount that the world can replenish in a year (Earth Overshoot Day). To be able to reach our goals, protect the planet we live on, and let the planet catch up with our needs, we have to be able to live sustainably.
One of the great examples of working towards that goal is paper batteries.
Because electricity cannot be stored (“Electricity and Energy Storage.”), batteries store chemical energy to be later converted into electrical energy. To do that, an electron flow is created through two opposite ends of a battery, called cathode and anode, that are separated by an electrolyte. This is done by chemical reactions. The reaction of anode and electrolyte produces electrons, meanwhile, the reaction of cathode and electrolyte allows this electrode to accept electrons (Mischa).
Compared to most batteries, paper batteries are far more eco-friendly and have many advantages due to cellulose. Research published in Nature shows a printed paper battery for disposable electronics that aims to decrease the pollution normal batteries have caused.
“The battery is based on a metal-air electrochemical cell that uses Zinc as a biodegradable metal in the anode, graphite in the cathode, paper as a separator between the electrodes, and a water-based electrolyte" (Poulin et al) says Water activated disposable paper battery published in Science.
In this battery, there is no electrolyte, thus the two electrodes are kept apart in the paper dispersed with sodium chloride. After contacting with water and transporting the water across the paper, by using the paper’s ability to absorb liquids through capillary action, the sodium chloride scattered in the paper dissolves and allows electron flow until the paper dries. During this, oxidation occurs on the zinc anode while the cathode utilizes oxygen from the air (Poulin et al).
The battery activates only 20 seconds after the initial contact with water! Although the battery is weaker in power compared to the technologies we use in our daily lives, this battery could still be used for low-power electronics (Poulin et al). The paper batteries are envisioned to be used for smart label tracking, disposable sensors, or diagnostic medical devices (Choi), which would be an incredible turning point for the Earth.
EPA, Environmental Protection Agency, https://www.epa.gov/international-cooperation/cleaning-electronic-waste-e-waste.
“Are Batteries Hazardous Waste?” Axil Integrated Services, 21 Oct. 2020, https://axil-is.com/are-batteries-hazardous-waste/#:~:text=As a general rule of,a variety of hazardous properties.
Kattenburg, Kathy. “What Do Batteries Do to the Environment If Not Properly Recycled?” Sciencing, 29 Apr. 2019, https://sciencing.com/what-do-batteries-do-to-the-environment-if-not-properly-recycled-12730824.html.
“Battery Recycling Is Important for Environmental Health.” Gallegos Sanitation / Republic Services, 20 Jan. 2020, https://gsiwaste.com/battery-recycling-is-important-for-environmental-health/#:~:text=As batteries corrode%2C their chemicals,could be ingesting dangerous metals.
“Earth Overshoot Day 2022 Home - #Movethedate.” Earth Overshoot Day, 2 Aug. 2022, https://www.overshootday.org/.
Mischa. “How A Battery Works.” Curious, 11 Mar. 2022, https://www.science.org.au/curious/technology-future/batteries#:~:text=A battery is a device,be used to do work.
Poulin, A., Aeby, X. & Nyström, G. Water activated disposable paper battery. Sci Rep 12, 11919 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-022-15900-5
Choi, Charles Q. “This Groundbreaking New Battery Could Help Solve Our e-Waste Problem.” Inverse, Inverse, 28 July 2022, https://www.inverse.com/innovation/paper-battery-e-waste-water.
“Electricity and Energy Storage.” World Nuclear Association, https://world-nuclear.org/information-library/current-and-future-generation/electricity-and-energy-storage.aspx#:~:text=Electricity cannot itself be stored,air%2C and pumped hydro storage.