A research team at the Italian Institute of Technology (IIT) is working on some deliciously innovative technology. One of their most notable creations is the first ever completely edible, rechargeable battery – that’s right, batteries that are completely made from natural, edible products.
Their research field aims to develop a safe-to-ingest, environmentally friendly, and cost-effective technology. The research uses all food-grade materials, such as beeswax, seaweed, and edible gold.
IE spoke to Fabrizo Mario Ferrarese, a Ph.D. student at IIT who has been working on the projects. He described the battery, “In developing the very first edible battery, we made it of cellulose with edible gold foil on top of it. On the inside, there are edible molecules that can act as oxidation-reduction, as in every battery. It is covered with beeswax, which is edible and protects the interior of the battery.”
While the battery can’t yet charge a phone, this proof-of-concept cell can operate at 0.65 V, sustaining a current of 48 µA for 12 min.
Another exciting invention being developed at IIT is the ELFO (Electronic Food) Project. ELFO is an EU-funded initiative developing new green technology that tracks the food supply chain and monitors the wellness of our gastrointestinal tract.
Current ingestible electronics are typically designed to be swallowed to perform specific functions within the body, such as monitoring or delivering medications. However, these devices are usually made from materials that are unsafe for consumption and can have difficulties safely passing through the digestive system.
Speaking further to Mr. Ferrarese, he stated, “We want to replace the classic electronic material with edible ones. For example, cellulose or even honey. This edible pill can act as a gastrointestinal probe to study your gastrointestinal tract. These types of pills already exist but are made of very toxic stuff, are indigestible and dangerous.” ELFO hopes to change that by creating devices that can be safely consumed and then excreted into the environment and disappear.
ELFO is creating edible electronic systems that are safe for consumption and can also be incorporated into food products. These naturally derived devices or tags can monitor various aspects of food, such as freshness, temperature, and exposure to contaminants. These tags will help in ensuring food safety and can also aid in reducing foodborne illnesses.
Their vision is to produce a technology that is environmentally friendly, cost-effective, and energy-efficient. With their probes, they also want to create something that is safe for ingestion and can be broken down within the body after it performs its function, either by being digested or even metabolized.
In summary, the Italian Institute of Technology is creating some truly innovative devices and opening the door for new edible electronic applications that can monitor health conditions and food safety as well as make batteries safer and more sustainable. The possibilities are exciting and we can’t wait to see how far this technology will go.