Imagine a battery made with origami-folded paper, activated by an ordinary drop of water, which is self-sustainable and costs only five cents. Sound like science fiction? Think again.

It is a reality.

The innovative new power is derived from microbial respiration in dirty water. The aim of this first-generation system is to provide an independent, inexpensive energy source for biosensors in remote areas. Seokheun “Sean” Choi, an engineer at Binghamton University, developed the groundbreaking technology.

So far, these tiny paper batteries were able to produce enough power to light up an LED.

Choi’s battery, which folds into a square the size of a matchbook, uses an inexpensive air-breathing cathode created with nickel sprayed onto one side of ordinary office paper. The anode is screen printed with carbon paints, creating a hydrophilic zone with wax boundaries.

A bacteria-containing liquid (water from ponds or streams, municipal wastewater, or biomass) is applied to two common inlets in the folded state, where it is transported into each battery. Then the battery stack is unfolded to maximize air-cathodic reactions.

The novel method of acquiring energy from the environment has disease control/prevention experts pretty excited, as it paves the way for cheap, biodegradable, independent diagnostic tools in the developing world. Other paper-based batteries have been developed already, but they rely on specially engineered nanomaterials, making it impractical for many applications.

The concept of origami batteries has been explored for years, as part of the drive to create “deformable” energy storage devices. Deformable batteries would open new avenues for electronic engineering, increasing energy density and allowing batteries to be placed virtually anywhere.

An origami lithium-ion battery was developed by researchers at Arizona State University and unveiled last year.

The strategy…represents the fusion of the art of origami, materials science and functional energy storage devices, and could provide a paradigm shift for architecture and design of flexible and curvilinear electronics with exceptional mechanical characteristics and functionalities.

As The Free Thought Project reported last week, the Dutch energy company, Starry Sky, unveiled a new technology to power 300 LED lights, using living plants. With all these new cleaner, more sustainable technologies popping up, one thing is certain; the days of tearing into the earth to dig out fossil fuels are numbered.

Justin Gardner is a peaceful free-thinker with a background in the biological sciences. He is interested in bringing rationality back into the national discourse, and independent journalism as a challenge to the status quo.