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Nanocomposite paper infused with carbon nanotubes  (Source: Rensselaer/Victor Pushparaj)
Batteries disguised as black paper could be a future power source

The current cutting edge of battery power for mobile devices is with lithium polymer batteries, thanks to flexibility in different packaging shapes. The battery of tomorrow, however, may not only be lightweight, thin and flexible, but may also appear to be a plain sheet of paper.

Researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute recently published finding of a new energy storage device made almost entirely of the same cellulose found in ordinary paper. What sets this new device apart from the everyday item is that the paper is infused with carbon nanotubes, which act as electrodes.

Details of the paper battery are explained in the article “Flexible Energy Storage Devices Based on Nanocomposite Paper” published August 13 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“It’s essentially a regular piece of paper, but it’s made in a very intelligent way,” said the paper’s co-author, Robert Linhardt. “We’re not putting pieces together – it’s a single, integrated device. The components are molecularly attached to each other: the carbon nanotube print is embedded in the paper, and the electrolyte is soaked into the paper. The end result is a device that looks, feels, and weighs the same as paper.”

The battery’s physical attributes make it an attractive technology for mobile devices such as cell phone, or for weight-sensitive applications such as aircraft. The battery may be shaped into different forms without affecting efficiency, and sheets may be stacked to boost capacity.

As the battery’s electrolyte, the researchers used a liquid salt. As an alternative, the battery may also be activated by the electrolytes found in human secretions and fluids, making the paper-thin battery a prime candidate for being implantable inside the body.

“It’s a way to power a small device such as a pacemaker without introducing any harsh chemicals – such as the kind that are typically found in batteries – into the body,” noted co-author Victor Pushparaj.

As proof of their concept, the researchers have manufactured a postage stamp-sized paper battery that can power a small fan or LED light.





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