Stanford University researchers think they’ve stumbled upon a way to transform ordinary sheets of office paper into batteries and superconductors. By painting a carbon nanotube ink, which can collect electric charge, on plain copier paper, and then dipping the coated paper into a lithium ion solution and an electrolyte, they can create a current and store it within the paper battery.
The scientists had previously experimented with making batteries using a similar process of painting nanomaterial ink onto a thin layer of plastic. But in an unexpected twist, they found that pores in paper fibers make it hold the ink better than plastic, for a more durable battery [The New York Times]. The research team, led by Yi Cui, found that you can even crumple up the paper batteries or soak them in acid, and they’ll still work just fine. They hope their technology, which was reported in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, can usher in a new era of lightweight, low-cost batteries.
The researchers say the paper batteries could be 20 percent lighter than metal ones and could release their current faster as well. The team says that adaptations to the technique in the future could allow for simply painting the nanotube ink and active materials onto surfaces such as walls [BBC News]. Supercapacitors (energy storage devises that hold an electric charge for a short time) made from the same technology worked for over 40,000 charge-discharge cycles.
One application, according to the researchers, could be for massive energy storage on the electric grid, which would help with the storage needs of renewable energy technologies like wind and solar. Some commentators are also suggesting that the paper batteries could be ideal for electric cars; however, the Standford researchers say they have no immediate plans to develop car batteries. Check out a video of the battery in action below:
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Image: L.A. Cicero / Stanford University
Video: YouTube / StanfordUniversity