A food-based rechargeable battery


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Starting with components that are typically taken as part of our regular diet, a team of researchers at the Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia (IIT-Italian Institute of Technology) has built a completely edible and rechargeable battery. An article detailing the proof-of-concept battery cell was released in the journal Advanced Materials. Applications in edible soft robotics, food quality monitoring, and health diagnostics are possible. Credit: Italian Institute of Technology
Starting with components that are typically taken as part of our regular diet, a team of researchers at the Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia (IIT-Italian Institute of Technology) has built a completely edible and rechargeable battery. A article detailing the proof-of-concept battery cell was just released in the Advanced Materials journal. The potential uses are in health diagnostics, food quality monitoring and edible soft robotics.

The team led by Mario Caironi, coordinator of the IIT Center’s Printed and Molecular Electronics laboratory in Milan, Italy, carried out the study. Caironi has been concentrating on the investigation of food’s and its byproducts’ electrical characteristics in order to combine them with edible materials and produce new edible electronic materials. Caironi was awarded a 2-million-euro ERC consolidator grant in 2019 for the edible electronics-focused ELFO Project.

The area of edible electronics has gained significant traction recently and has considerable promise for improving food quality monitoring and diagnosing and treating gastrointestinal tract disorders. Realizing edible power sources is one of the most intriguing difficulties in the creation of future edible electronic systems.

The research team at IIT created a battery that uses quercetin, a food supplement and ingredient that is found in capers among other things, as the cathode and riboflavin, a vitamin B2 that can be found in almonds, as the anode. The battery was inspired by the biochemical redox reactions that occur in all living things. The electrolyte was water-based, and the electrical conductivity was increased using activated charcoal, a common over-the-counter drug. Sushi-grade nori seaweed was used to make the separator, which is an essential component of all batteries that prevent short circuits. After that, two food-grade gold contacts—the kind of foil used by pastry chefs—on a support made of cellulose were extracted from electrodes that had been encased in beeswax.

The battery cell functions at 0.65 V, which is low enough to not cause issues for the human body when consumed. For a short while, it can power small electrical devices like low-power LEDs with a current of 48 μA for 12 minutes or a few microampers for almost an hour.

The first entirely edible rechargeable battery ever created could lead to the development of new edible electronic applications.

Future applications might include everything from edible circuitry and health-monitoring sensors to powering sensors that keep an eye on the conditions of food storage. Furthermore, considering how safe these batteries are, they might be utilized in kid’s toys, where ingesting them poses a significant risk. In fact, we are currently creating gadgets that are smaller overall and have more capacity. Future tests of these advancements will also be conducted to power soft robots that are edible, stated Mario Caironi, the research coordinator.

“The group that studies energy storage finds this edible battery to be highly intriguing. With the need for batteries rising, one problem we have is creating safer batteries without using harmful components. Our edible batteries demonstrate that batteries can be used even though they won’t power electric cars be made from safer materials than current Li-ion batteries. We believe they will inspire other scientists to build safer batteries for truly sustainable future,” added Ivan Ilic, co-author of the study.


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