Replace An AA Battery With Paper

Paper is an ubiquitous part of society; so much so that the incredible engineering behind it often goes unnoticed. That isn’t the case for [Robert], though, who has a deep appreciation for the material and all its many uses far beyond recording information. In this particular video, he recreates a method found by researchers to turn a piece of paper into a battery with equivalent performance to a AA-sized alkaline battery. (Video, embedded below the break.)

The process involves the creation of a few different types of ink, each of which can be made with relatively common materials such as shellac, ethanol, polyethylene glycol, and graphite. Each of these materials are mixed in different proportions to create the inks. Once the cathode ink and anode ink are made, a third ink is needed called a current collector ink which functions essentially as a wire. The paper is dipped into a salt solution and then allowed to dry, given a partial waterproof coating, and when it is needed it can be activated by wetting it which allows the ion flow of the battery to happen.

The chemistry of this battery makes a lot of sense once you see it in action, and the battery production method also has a perk of having a long shelf life as long as the batteries stay dry. They also don’t damage the environment as much as non-rechargable alkaline cells do, at least unless you want to go to some extreme measures to reuse them.

54 thoughts on “Replace An AA Battery With Paper

  1. Translate the H@D hack speak, equivalent performance is what, you can read 1.5V on a meter, or it has better than 1000mAh of capacity?

    Well from vid, a very low draw LCD clock runs 2.5 hours???? Heh, how long do decent alkalines last in it, three years? Even if we say it’s got a hefty 50mA draw then that means these are 125mA or less as shown.

    Nothing seems particularly fantastic about the chemistry, seems like demo salt and zinc batts we made in science class way back.

      1. Believe it or not, but my father and me know a person from ex-GDR that always differentiates between “batteries” and “primary cells”.. Oh, and rechargeable batteries are “accumulators”, of course, not some “batteries”. :)

          1. That person from ex-GDR thinks otherwise.
            He thinks in military terms.
            A “battery” consists of several individual units.
            Akin to a battery of fireworks, for example:
            A “battery” thus consists of multiple cells.
            A “primary cell” alone is no battery yet.

          2. The use of the word “battery” comes from the fact that lanterns, radios, etc. used multiple cells packaged in a single box up to a hundred odd volts for tube radios. The most familiar one is the 9 Volt battery that actually has 6 cells inside. The rest have pretty much fallen out of use because we don’t need high voltages for portable devices anymore, yet people still call them batteries when they’re really cells.

      1. Roll up enough paper! On a size note, i have a digital novelty clock with the same size lcd that runs on nothing but water (three little tubes with dissimilar metal electrodes filled with water).

    1. Most of those clocks and other chinesium devices are so terrible that somehow the battery ends up having rust and leaking long before they should. Doesnt mean the experiment is not still fun. :-D

      1. a number of things may be at play but leaking alkaline batteries are not the fault of the clock. they leak when they get low. they all do it. it’s a flaw in the battery technology. if anything, if you’re seeing it a lot in one device it might mean that it is so accepting of low voltage that you don’t have to replace the battery as often.

    2. The same guy recently had a video on IR radiation cooling where he used an IR thermometer to “show” that a piece of white paper was almost as good as a complex, science study based paint formulation made in another video by someone else showing the IR cooling effect of the paint, but using an expensive imaging infrared temperature measurement. What this paper battery guy apparently didn’t know about was how material emissivity affected (lowered) his IR thermometer readings.

  2. It’s not a “paper battery”. The energy comes out of a chemical reaction between the anode and cathode materials, so the battery should be named after them. The paper soaked in electrolyte is just there to separate the layers.

        1. Since it was proven it is a paper battery, as it has a spacer formed largely of cellulose (the major constituent of paper). You may call it an alkaline-paper battery or whatever tickles your fancy, since the point was it is indeed what you tried to negate, ayy.

          1. No. The name of a battery is determined by the chemistry, not the passive elements like the material of the container or separator. The paper in this example plays, as far as I can see, no part in the reaction. It only supports the other materials. By your logic, a regular AA alkaline battery can be called a “steel battery” since it is in a steel can… but it isn’t.

  3. Alkaline batteries aren’t particularly harmful. In fact they’re pretty much not harmful to the environment unless you tip a ton of them in a single pile and let them rot in the rain.

    The most hazardous chemical in an AA battery is potassium hydroxide which is the same as you get from burning a bunch of wood and then pouring water through the ashes. That’s why it’s called “caustic potash”: it was originally made out of ash by boiling the filtered water in a pot. You eat it as the additive E525.

    1. Just to be pedantic, burning of plants harvested from land results in potassium carbonate which then can be converted to potassium hydroxide by the addition of calcium hydroxide in a solution and then calcium carbonate precipitates out due to low solubility in water. The burning of seaweed from salt water results in sodium carbonate due to the accumulation of sodium from the water.

      A lot of websites got this bit of chemistry wrong and the mistakes since propagated far and wide, due to misunderstandings of the historical production of soap.

      1. Wood ash also contains lots of calcium, more so than potassium, and when burned will form calcium oxide, which when doused with water forms calcium hydroxide. It depends on how hot you burn the fire – lower temperatures makes calcium carbonate, higher temperature breaks it apart into CaO.

        1. And, the reason why burning wood results in potassium carbonate anyways is because the caustic potash solution picks up CO2 from the air and converts back to plain potash. Same thing happens with the battery electrolyte in the environment.

    2. Last I looked at environmentalists opinions of disposable primary cells they were still banging on about cadmium, and alluding to other heavy metals, which haven’t been in Western batteries for what, 20+ years now.

        1. Or as John Gall would point out, every system set up to solve a problem eventually moves from serving solutions to serving itself. Often sooner than it has managed to solve the problem in the first place.

      1. in theory and by law yes…
        but not everyone plays by the rules

        somehow i ended-up with carbon-zinc heavy-duty AAAs with a mercury warning,
        and both carbon-zinc AND NiMh AA’s with cadmium warnings lol
        funny how they slipped-past scrutinization at the border

        must have been cells included in a product,
        in fact i remember carbon-zinc AAAs “included” with a product that had a lead (Pb) warning
        maybe a mixup with more mercury, people who work with mercury often make silly mistakes

        how many cells contain banned heavy-metals with NO warning labels?

        retailers shippers packagers and importers never attempt to mislead and confuse… no?

  4. I dunno about you guys, but shellac is difficult to come by since the plandemic. I drove all over town to buy the last few quarts anyone had in stock, and the price was inflated heavily.

  5. The paper first describes a zinc-air chemistry…

    Then they go and make what appears to be a zinc-carbon-chloride chemistry. Which also appears to perform like bog standard zinc carbon. Why are they using salt and where does the sodium and chloride ions go?

    It would have much more amazing performance if it was working in zinc-air mode with the potential of catalysation through the graphene edges in the graphite (Though you can enhance graphene content with a blender and soap method, which should be considered) then it would blow us away. Power an LCD for a week+ not hours.

    I am gonna assume here, that they naiively put salt in to kick start the conductivity, and didn’t notice it was in chloride mode. If you wanna boost the hydroxide ions, use a hydroxide dammit. Then the issue is that you probably can’t get it dry enough for long term storage because it’s highly hygroscopic.

    1. Hmmm baking soda should have worked, on account of it turning into a hydroxide pretty quickly when it gives up its carbon dioxide and hydrogen in electrolytic reactions. I am wondering if they cribbed this from somewhere and got it confused with salt. Might take 20 mins longer from soak to power though until it’s converted.

      1. Gah, first thoughts I said just carbon dioxide, then had 1.5 thoughts and put hydrogen, now a full second thought later yeah, the hydrogen doesn’t need to go anywhere, just stay in another OH species derp.

    1. I can’t remember, how many usages of the word “pedantic” in the comments on an article let’s me fill in a HaD comment bingo square? If it’s 2 or less then everyone can mark that off their paper. Also note “clickbait” was also referenced once so that’s another one. If we can get a “how is this a hack” I’ll have bingo!

      1. “I could go all pedantic on the many reasons this clickbait article is not a hack, but I cannot because there is no edit button here, in this forum, in 2022.”

        There ya go. :) Yahtzee!

    2. The first rule of writing is “know your audience”. The HaD audience is well known for being interested in, and commenting on, technical details.

      That being the case, it’s easy to predict we’ll have things to say about an article whose title of the form “replace X with Y” for a Y that can only ‘replace’ X in a trivial and not particularly useful case. So easy, in fact, that doing so counts as a writing fail.

      At that point a writer may as well just add “ingredient four will shock you!” (though in this case, not much) and be done with it.

  6. IMHO, you should name the battery after the most expensive component/ingredient. In this case, it is a Zinc battery. Zinc is currently $3.51/kg.

    Its as if I claim I can make an engine run on just water, and omit to mention that I also use Calcium Carbide, in order to generate Acetylene gas.

    Currently, calcium carbide is around $856/MT, ($0.856/kg). And 1 kg of calcum carbide (CaC2) can generate around 0.41kg of acetylene gas. Acetylene generates 11.8 kJ/g of energy.

    So, 1 kg of Cac2 will yield 11.8kJ/g x 410g = 4.838Mj of energy, or 1.343 kWh per kg.
    FYI, diesel yields around 12.638 kWh per kg (45.5mJ/kg)

    Diesel is around $1.596 per kg, $0.126/kWh
    Calcium Carbide would be $0.637/kWh, making it 5 times more expensive, and pointless to use.

    Would be interesting to see the same calculations on how many kWh/$ you could get from that “revolutionary paper battery” vs conventional batteries. Otherwise, I see no point in doing such a thing.

    1. Please excuse myself, I have no valid source to claim that 1 kg of CaC2 could yield 0.41 kg of Acetylene. Some other non official source claims it could be around 0.32 kg. Therefore;

      1 kg of CaC2 generates: 320 grams of Acetylene. 320 x 11.8kJ/g = 3.776Mj/kg
      1 kg of diesel generates 45.5Mj/kg

      1 kg diesel has the same energy as 12.05 kg of CaC2. (45.5 / 3.776)

      1 kg of diesel is $1.596 (considering diesel density as 0.85 kg/L)
      12.05kg of CaC2 x $0.856/kg = $10.3148

      1. Thank you. But I was being an idiot, because I used the price of bulk Calcium Carbide, which is around 80% pure. (
        That’s the source where I got the $856/MT ($0.856/kg) price tag.
        410g x 80% = 328.0g, thats how I estimated the ~320g from the bulk Calcium Carbide, but it still is wrong, because the impurities could create some other undesired products.

        Sorry for being misleading in my calculations.

        You are 100% on your calculations. I just don’t have any valid sources, for the price of 100% pure Calcium Carbide.

        And I agree, the comment section of hackaday is way more interesting than the article. I am having fun.

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