Scientists in Italy invented the first edible rechargeable battery


Scientists at the Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia (Italian Institute of Technology) in Genoa have successfully created a completely edible, rechargeable battery.

The researchers’ paper – “An Edible Chargeable Battery” – was recently published in the Advanced Materials journal, in which they described their proof-of-concept battery cell.

If you haven’t yet heard of them, edible electronics have been around for the last couple of years, but they’re still in the early stages. They’re used for gut health monitoring, remote monitoring of the inside of the human body, and rapid food quality monitoring.

And what’s needed are edible batteries – power sources – to go along with those edible electronics.

The researchers’ edible battery uses riboflavin (Vitamin B2, found, for example, in almonds, yogurt, and eggs) as the anode and quercetin (a food supplement and ingredient in capers, apples, and red wine, to name a few) as the cathode.

Activated charcoal – available as an over-the-counter medication – was used to increase electrical conductivity, and the electrolyte is water-based.

The separator, which is needed in every battery to avoid short circuits, was made from nori seaweed, the kind found in sushi.

The electrodes were encapsulated in beeswax from which two food-grade gold contacts – the edible gold foil that pastry chefs use – on a cellulose-derived support stick out.

The researchers’ edible rechargeable battery cell operates at 0.65 V, a voltage low enough not to create problems when humans ingest it. It can provide a current of 48 μA for 12 minutes or a few microamps for more than an hour, enough to supply power to small electronic devices, such as low-power LEDs, for a limited time.

As for the rechargeable part of the battery, the researchers note in the paper’s introduction that “developing rechargeable batteries is essential in green electronics since it allows them to be reused when the application permits (e.g., food monitoring), thereby significantly reducing waste.”

However, if someone eats the battery and it doesn’t, erm, come back out, then, of course, the recharging part is out the window. They continue:

While rechargeable properties of the battery might not be useful for short-lived applications inside the human body, edible devices operating outside the human body can be recharged, prolonging their lifetime.

So, of course, this tiny thing can’t power EVs or keep the lights on with solar in a home at the moment, and we don’t see this happening anytime soon. And you wouldn’t want to eat your EV battery – because duh.

But perhaps a tiny, edible, rechargeable battery that works now is potentially planting the seed for the invention of larger food-based rechargeable batteries in the future. The research team is already developing devices with greater capacity.

Ivan Ilic, a study co-author, explains:

This edible battery is also very interesting for the energy storage community. Building safer batteries, without the use of toxic materials, is a challenge we face as battery demand soars.

While our edible batteries won’t power electric cars, they are proof that batteries can be made from safer materials than current Li-ion batteries. We believe they will inspire other scientists to build safer batteries for a truly sustainable future.

Read more: Scientists have found major storage capacity in water-based batteries

Photo: Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia

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