Topline

A group of engineers has designed a biodegradable battery that charges using water, a concept aimed at cutting waste and reducing the environmental impacts of single-use electronics.

Key Facts

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The battery, created by engineers Alexandre Poulin, Xavier Aeby, and Gustav Nyström and detailed in an article published in Nature on Thursday, remains uncharged until it’s activated when water is absorbed by its paper-based coating.

The engineers said the battery can charge within just 20 seconds and with just two drops of water, lasting more than one hour on a single charge.

It releases a voltage of up to 1.2 volts ,and is ideal for disposable single-use electronics and low-power electronics like smart packaging, calculators, watches and alarm clocks, according to the study’s authors.

While the battery isn’t widely available yet, the engineers—who work at the Swiss lab Empa—say they hope it could become commercially available within the next two to five years.

Big Number

53.6 million metric tons. That's how much electronic waste was discarded in 2019, according to the Global E-Waste Monitor, a United Nations-backed entity. The volume of “e-waste” is projected to increase 30% by 2030.

Key Background

Electronic waste has been a growing problem, spurred by single-use electronics and materials like discarded televisions, computers, and cell phones. While about 38.5% of US consumer electronic waste was collected for recycling in 2018, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, the rest is discarded in landfills, sometimes in developing countries where discarded electronics cause environmental and health problems. The burning of toxic materials exposes workers and nearby residents to pollution, and can cause irreversible health impacts like cancer, neurological damage and fertility loss, the EPA says.

Water activated disposable paper battery | Scientific Reports (nature.com)

WEEE Forum (weee-forum.org)

Cleaning Up Electronic Waste (E-Waste) | US EPA