The first rechargeable and... edible battery in the world

Scientists from the Italian Institute of Technology have created an innovative edible battery: it is among the best inventions of 2023

Italian Institute of Technology: the first edible battery is born
Scientists at the Italian Institute of Technology have created the world's first fully edible battery (Photo: Italian Institute of Technology)

She's Italian world's first edible and rechargeable battery: created in the laboratories of the Italian Institute of Technology, it has already earned a special mention in the list of the best inventions of 2023 drawn up by the "“Time”, and promises to revolutionize entire sectors. It is the first time that an Italian invention has received such recognition.

The battery based almonds, capers and activated charcoal obtained from coconuts could be used to monitor food, to diagnose the gastrointestinal tract and also to build safer toys for little ones, in a context where the risk of accidental ingestion remains quite high.

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Mario Caironi deals with edible electronics, a rapidly growing field of scientific investigation (Photo: Italian Institute of Technology)

Almonds, capers and activated carbon from coconut

The first edible battery in the world is built using almonds, capers, activated carbon obtained from coconuts. The battery separator is based on nori seaweed, the same ones used to cook sushi. The rest of the battery is made of beeswax, cellulose derivatives and two edible gold contacts, a well-known ingredient in fine pastry making.

The riboflavin of almonds acts as an anode, while quercetin, present for example in the capers, performs the function of cathode. The Activated carbon increases electrical conductivity, while the electrolyte is water-based. The electrodes are encapsulated in a container Beeswax, from which two contacts emerge edible gold.

The battery created by the research group ofItalian Institute of Technology driven by Mario Caironi it works at 0,65 V, a voltage low enough not to cause harm to the human body if ingested, and can provide enough energy to power small electronic devices (such as low-power LEDs).

The one built by the IIT Milan team, described in the international magazine “Advanced Materials”, is the world's first prototype of a fully edible rechargeable battery: it could be used for edible circuits and sensors capable of monitoring the state of conservation of food and our health conditions. Another very promising use of the Italian invention concerns the safety of products and early childhood toys, where the risk of ingestion is always high.

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The world's first edible battery is Italian
Alkaline batteries will soon be a distant memory: a battery based on almonds and capers has been created in the laboratories of the Italian Institute of Technology (Photo: Envato)

How will we use edible batteries?

THEedible electronics, IIT scientists explain, is a rapidly growing field of scientific investigation, which could have a great impact on everyday life. The research team led by Mario Caironi, coordinator of the "Printed and Molecular Electronics Laboratory" of the IIT, managed to overcome the difficulty of creating a completely edible energy source starting from ingredients that we usually consume at the table.

"Potential future uses include edible circuits and sensors, capable of monitoring health conditions but also the preservation status of food”, explains Caironi, “furthermore, given the high level of safety of these batteries, these technologies could also be used in the field of toys for younger children, where the risk of ingestion is high".

"The idea is to enable a series of devices that can be ingested without any side effects“, Caironi explained in an interview a few months ago, “because they are processed by our body just as food is digested“, but equipped with sensors capable of detecting, for example, temperatures and pH in the stomach or intestines.

As emphasized Ivan Ilyich, co-author of the study, “lhe construction of safer batteries, without the use of toxic materials, is a challenge that we must face: even if these batteries they won't power electric cars, are proof that creating power sources with safer materials than current lithium ion batteries is possible".

"We believe they will inspire other scientists to build safer batteries, for a truly sustainable future”, concludes Ilic.

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Edible battery, a breakthrough for toy safety
One of the most promising applications of the edible battery concerns the safety of toys for younger children: they can be ingested without any problem (Photo: Envato)

Also among the best inventions of 2023

Since last March, the research published by Caironi's team has attracted the attention of international observers, collecting hundreds of articles dedicated published in Italy, Great Britain, United States, France, Spain, Germany, Brazil, Argentina and other countries around the world.

Even the editorial team of ““Time” noticed the extraordinary Italian invention, so much so that it was included in the list of the "200 Best Inventions" of 2023, which also includes the Lego bricks in braille and the Seamless M4T universal translator by Meta.

The IIT edible battery deserved the special mention of the jury, awarded to the best innovations capable of changing our way of life: it is the first time that the prestigious recognition reaches an invention born in an Italian research center.

"I am very happy and also very surprised that Time selected us; therefore, it is even more of a satisfaction for the entire research group, whom I thank”, commented Mario Caironi.

"In research, especially when traveling along little-traveled paths, it is not a given that on the one hand you obtain results and on the other that these are noticed so quickly. This motivates us even more to continue. Huge credit goes to Ivan Ilic, a former member of the team, who led the creation of the battery”, concludes the scientist, who in 2019 won a 2 million euro loan from the European Research Council for a project that explores the field of food electronics.

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In 2022, IIT scientists created the first self-powered, edible sensor for defrosting (Photo: Italian Institute of Technology)

The future of IIT beyond the mention of “Time”

"Time's recognition of the originality of the edible battery makes me very proud", he has declared Giorgio Metta, Scientific Director of the Italian Institute of Technology, “since it is a clear sign that our Institute is an international reality for the quality of its research. A quality that the scientific community and research funding programs, such as the European Research Council, have already had the opportunity to evaluate in an excellent manner".

"Today we can say that this quality is transmitted and approached by the international public. It is the path that we will continue to follow to bring Made in Italy innovation towards new technical and market goals”, explained Metta.

The important international recognition arrives precisely in the year in which the Milanese Institute celebrates four decades of activity: "Twenty years of excellent results demonstrate that the international model implemented by the Institute is absolutely solid”, concluded Metta, “I am optimistic that this same model will lead us to further and more important results".

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Italian Institute of Technology: the first edible battery in the world is Italian
Mario Caironi shows the world's first edible battery: an invention that earned a special mention from "Time" (Photo: Italian Institute of Technology)