Researchers have figured out how to make edible, rechargeable batteries. The first one ever was created at Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia and uses vitamin B2 and quercetin alongside nori seaweed, beeswax and gold. This newest development in the battery world might seem silly at first, but actually has quite a wide range of applications.
Edible batteries are a necessary step towards creating edible electronics, usable for health diagnostics like monitoring and treating gastrointestinal tract diseases. Edible electronics is a growing field, but so far a big hindrance has been the lack of edible batteries. These special batteries could also be used in sensors that monitor food storage conditions or in children’s toys with high risks of ingestion. The battery cell works at 0.65 V, which is a lower voltage that doesn’t create issues in the human body when it’s ingested. It has enough power for small electronic devices, like low-power LEDs, for limited amounts of time. However, the researchers are actively working on developing edible batteries with higher capacities and smaller sizes.
So how exactly does the edible battery work? The battery facilitates riboflavin, or B2, as its anode and uses quercetin (a food supplement found in capers) as its cathode. Activated charcoal is used to increase the battery’s electrical conductivity, and a water-based electrolyte is used. The separator, which functions in batteries as a prevention for short circuits, is made from nori seaweed. The electrodes are then encapsulated in beeswax, from which two food-grade contacts made from food-grade gold foil come out.
Battery demand is currently soaring as the world tries to turn towards cleaner energy sources. However, the batteries that we currently use are made of toxic materials. These materials can also be hard to get. For example, a thousand-pound electric car battery is estimated to require the moving of 50,000 pounds of earth while mining. A key ingredient in EV batteries is cobalt. Cobalt in the cathodes keeps the battery from overheating or catching fire, thus extending the life of the battery. Cobalt mining, however, is associated with dangerous workers’ exploitation, as well as serious environmental and social problems. The world’s largest cobalt supplier is currently the Democratic Republic of Congo, where mining conditions are often dangerous, exposing workers to radiation, toxic chemicals and violence.
While edible batteries might not ever power cars, they are a step towards developing more sustainable, safer power sources. The researchers hope that their advancements inspire other scientists to also pursue ways to make safer batteries. They’ve proven that it’s possible: now it’s up to the rest of the scientific community to expand on it.