Researchers build edible rechargeable battery

A team of scientists at the Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia (IIT-Italian Institute of Technology) has created a battery from materials that are normally consumed as part of our daily diet.

The IIT team has created a totally edible and rechargeable battery, which could be used in health diagnostics, food quality monitoring and edible soft robotics.

Edible electronics is an emergin field that could have a great impact on the diagnosis and treatment of gastrointestinal tract diseases, as well as on food quality monitoring. One of the field’s largest challenges is the development of edible power sources.

The IIT research group took inspiration from the biochemical redox reactions that happen in the body. They developed a battery that utilises riboflavin (vitamin B2) as an anode and quercetin (a food supplement and ingredient) as a cathode.

The researchers used a water-based electrolyte and leveraged activated charcoal to increase electrical conductivity The separator, needed in every battery to avoid short circuits, is made from nori seaweed, the kind found in sushi, while the electrodes are encapsulated in beeswax. 

The result was the first fully-edible rechargeable battery ever made. 

“Building safer batteries, without usage of toxic materials, is a challenge we face as battery demand soars,” said Ivan Ilic, co-author of the study. 

“While our edible batteries won’t power electric cars, they are a 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 truly sustainable future.”

The battery can provide a current of 48 μA for 12 minutes, enough to supply power to small electronic devices such as low-power LEDs for a limited time. However, its cell operates at 0.65 V, a voltage low enough to avoid creating problems in the human body when ingested. 

“Future potential uses range from edible circuits and sensors that can monitor health conditions to the powering of sensors for monitoring food storage conditions,” said research coordinator Mario Caironi.

Given the level of safety of these batteries, they could be used in children’s toys, where there is a high risk of ingestion. In fact, the team is already developing devices with greater capacity and reducing the overall size, which will be tested in the future for the powering of edible soft robots. 

The proof-of-concept battery cell has been described in a paper recently published in the journal Advanced Materials.

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