Medical Devices and Healthcare IT

First rechargeable battery made from food

14 April 2023
The battery is made up of components that are commonly found in foods ingested by humans like almonds, sushi, capers and more. Source: IIT

Researchers from the Italian Institute of Technology (IIT) have created what it claims is the first edible and rechargeable battery made from food.

The prototype battery cell is made of materials that are normally consumed as part of a human’s daily diet.

IIT said edible electronics is an emerging field that could have an impact on healthcare such as the treatment of gastrointestinal tract diseases or food quality monitoring. However, edible power sources could provide a whole host of potential applications.

“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 Mario Caironi, a coordinator of the printer and molecular electronic lab at IIT in Milan, Italy. “Moreover, given the level of safety of these batteries, they could be used in children toys, where there is a high risk of ingestion. Actually, we are already developing devices with greater capacity and reducing the overall size. These developments will be tested in future also for powering edible soft robots.”

The battery

The battery cell operates at 0.65 V, which is low enough to prevent problems in the human body if ingested. It can provide a current of 48 μA for 12 minutes, or a few microamps for more than an hour. This is enough to power a small electronic device such as low-power LEDs for a limited time.

Researchers said they took inspiration for the battery from biochemical redox reactions that occur in living beings and developed a battery using riboflavin (vitamin B2 found in almonds) as the anode and quercetin (a food supplement found in capers) as the cathode.

Activated charcoal was used to increase electrical conductivity while the electrolyte was water-based. The separator in the battery was made from nori seaweed, commonly used in sushi and the electrodes were encapsulated in beeswax from which two-food-grade gold contacts on cellulose-derived support emerge.

Potential other uses

Researchers said the edible battery may someday be used in the energy storage community, which currently use toxic materials.

While they won’t be able to power electric vehicles, researchers said, the prototype can lead to the design of safer batteries relative to current lithium-ion batteries. IIT said it hopes the prototype edible battery will inspire other scientists to build safer batteries for a sustainable future.

The full research can be found in the journal Advanced Materials.

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