BillerudKorsnäs & Uppsala University One Step Closer To Paper Batteries
By: Rudy Sanchez
Researchers at Uppsala University and BillerudKorsnäs, a paper and packaging manufacturer in Sweden, have reached a technological breakthrough towards the next step in smart packaging: sustainable, battery-powered packages made from cellulose.
Instead of using lithium batteries to power electronics built into a package, these “paper batteries” can be embedded into the packaging and used to fuel low-powered sensors, displays or anything else that would require a power source.
Currently, if a company wants to create a smart package—that is, a package with an active sensor—a conventional battery has to be incorporated. Not only is there an additional monetary cost for this but there can be an environmental impact as well. For example, a common chemical found in small batteries, perchlorate, can end up in drinking water if disposed of improperly and affect thyroid function in humans.
A battery made from cellulose explores the potential for low-cost and eco-friendly batteries and the design of higher tech packages. A paper battery powering a temperature sensor could ensure the contents of a package are handled safely and stored properly. Utilizing radios, you could track a package's location - a sensor could even potentially detect if it was damaged in transit. A low-powered display, like an e-ink panel, can dynamically change the information presented to the purchaser. Why print information in multiple languages when the consumer can now choose their own?
A smart package could also interact with your appliances. Now, your carton of milk can let your fridge know how much is left in the container or if it's expired. Hell, it could probably order more from Whole Foods for you and have it delivered by Amazon.
“The paper battery is a key piece of the puzzle in efforts to produce smart packaging that requires small, sustainable power sources," says Magnus Wikström, technical director at BillerudKorsnäs. "By enabling this type of sustainable packaging, the work on the paper battery is fully in line with BillerudKorsnäs’ vision of challenging conventional packaging for a sustainable future. Storing energy in paper instead of in lithium batteries, for example, allows for bio-based batteries that can form part of a circular system, which provides major sustainability benefits."
For package designers and manufacturers, the ability to create packages powered by low-cost batteries opens endless opportunities to innovate in exciting ways that better serve everyone along the supply chain, all while using a sustainable, easily recyclable technology.
It’s not often that technological breakthroughs are low-cost and environmentally friendly, and it’s a refreshing change that’s hopefully a sign of more things to come.
Rudy Sanchez is a product marketing consultant based in Southern California. Once described by a friend as her “technology life coach,” he is a techie and avid lifelong gamer. When he’s not writing or helping clients improve their products, he’s either watching comedies on Netflix, playing the latest shooter or battle royale game or out exploring the world via Ingress and Pokémon Go.