Sustainability: Next Stop: Tomorrowland

In the quest for more efficient, green energy sources, a group of researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute have made a breakthrough: batteries made out of paper.

Ok, so it's a bit more complex than a piece of loose leaf. But 90 percent is comprised of cellulose (plant fibers), the same material used to make paper. Carbon nanotubes and an ionic liquid, a liquid salt that contains no water, make up the other 10 percent. These natural materials and lack of toxins are what make the battery so environmentally friendly.

Since the battery is essentially paper, it can be folded, cut, rolled and molded into whatever shape is necessary. Imagine the possibilities for all the small electronic devices we can't seem to live without these days. Cell phones really could be razor thin. Researchers also envision constructing giant sheets to power cars, planes and boats. The batteries are designed to withstand extreme temperatures, up to 300 degrees Fahrenheit and down to -100, so they won't melt or freeze.

Another remarkable feature of the batteries is their ability to use human sweat and blood as a power source instead of the liquid salt. Imagine working out at the gym and charging your iPod while you sweat. Not quite what the researchers had in mind I don't think, but it's a fun thought. They had the slightly more admirable idea to implant the paper batteries in pacemakers. With the battery's ability to double as a super capacitor, it could also work as a defibrillator.

Obviously, the researchers still have a long way to go before the world is powered by paper. They don't yet have the capability to mass produce the batteries, although they foresee someday being able to manufacture giant sheets like newspapers. There is no mention of how long the batteries last or how much power they possess. (Researchers have powered a small red light with the one-inch samples they've made.) Even so, I'm pretty impressed by the huge potential these batteries represent.

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