Paper-based Origami Battery Operates on the Respiration of Microbes

Simple battery could lead to a self-contained biosensor system costing only five cents

2 min read
Paper-based Origami Battery Operates on the Respiration of Microbes
Photo: Binghamton University

The Japanese art of folding paper into objects, known as origami, has taken on new life in nanotechnology research. The latest incarnation of this ancient art comes to us via research out of Binghamton University in New York. The technique has been applied to a battery technology that uses bacteria as the power source.

In the journal Nano Energy, the Binghamton researchers demonstrate how they have captured the respiration of microbes to generate enough energy to power a paper-based biosensor. All the microbes that were needed could be provided in a single drop of liquid teeming with bacteria.

“Dirty water has a lot of organic matter,” said Seokheun “Sean” Choi, who led the research, in a press release. “Any type of organic material can be the source of bacteria for the bacterial metabolism.”

Origami’s role in the battery design comes into play with the folding of two-dimensional sheets to create a three-dimensional battery structure that is about the size of a matchbook. The air-breathing cathode was produced by spraying nickel onto one side of a typical piece of paper. The anode is screen printed with carbon paints. The bacteria-laced water was added into a folded battery stack. In operation, this stack is unfolded, exposing all the cathodes to the air, maximizing their cathodic reactions.

The point of developing this simple battery was to find a way to power a separate paper-based biosensor without depending on an external handheld device to run the analysis. Choi believes that the simple battery he and his colleagues have developed can produce the microwatts required to run a biosensor in a self-contained system.

This simple, self-contained device should prove particularly useful in remote locations where resources—especially money—are limited; the entire device would cost only five cents.

Having been awarded a US $300,000 three-year grant from the National Science Foundation to develop a commercially viable origami battery, Choi is confident that we could see such a device in the field in the not-too-distant future.

Choi added: “Paper is cheap and it’s biodegradable. And we don’t need external pumps or syringes [for a paper-based biosensor] because paper can suck up a solution using capillary force.”

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Are You Ready for Workplace Brain Scanning?

Extracting and using brain data will make workers happier and more productive, backers say

11 min read
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A photo collage showing a man wearing a eeg headset while looking at a computer screen.
Nadia Radic
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Get ready: Neurotechnology is coming to the workplace. Neural sensors are now reliable and affordable enough to support commercial pilot projects that extract productivity-enhancing data from workers’ brains. These projects aren’t confined to specialized workplaces; they’re also happening in offices, factories, farms, and airports. The companies and people behind these neurotech devices are certain that they will improve our lives. But there are serious questions about whether work should be organized around certain functions of the brain, rather than the person as a whole.

To be clear, the kind of neurotech that’s currently available is nowhere close to reading minds. Sensors detect electrical activity across different areas of the brain, and the patterns in that activity can be broadly correlated with different feelings or physiological responses, such as stress, focus, or a reaction to external stimuli. These data can be exploited to make workers more efficient—and, proponents of the technology say, to make them happier. Two of the most interesting innovators in this field are the Israel-based startup InnerEye, which aims to give workers superhuman abilities, and Emotiv, a Silicon Valley neurotech company that’s bringing a brain-tracking wearable to office workers, including those working remotely.

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