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Startup develops method of making batteries out of paper products: 'Paper batteries are very new to this world'

"We're making it so easy for manufacturers and suppliers to just swap old lithium batteries with our paper batteries."

"We're making it so easy for manufacturers and suppliers to just swap old lithium batteries with our paper batteries."

Photo Credit: Flint

Lithium has long been the essential element in battery technology used to power electric vehicles, but a company has discovered a viable alternative in a material that many would find surprising.

According to TechCrunch, a startup out of Singapore named Flint has developed a way to substitute the lithium inside a battery with paper. The company only started producing paper batteries in 2022, but it already has a prototype that's produced promising results. 

The next step is to find a partner to facilitate the testing of paper batteries in consumer products.

"Paper batteries are very new to this world, and there are only a few institutions working on this technology right now," Carlo Charles, co-founder at Flint, said. "We're working on changing the materials, so instead of fusing lithium, nickel and cobalt, we're using zinc, manganese and cellulose papers."

"With those three things," Charles continued, "we can change the way the battery can be used, but keep how the battery is made. So that's the upper hand we have compared to other strategies and battery technologies out there."

Extracting lithium is not only an expensive, time-consuming, and labor-intensive process, but it also has detrimental effects on the environment. For example, extracting lithium from brine water can lead to land degradation and water contamination. 

According to Euronews, it takes about 2.2 million liters (nearly 581,000 gallons) of water to produce a ton of lithium, which can be problematic in arid areas where water is scarce.

By foregoing lithium altogether, Flint has created a battery made up of only three parts: a zinc-based anode, a manganese-based cathode, and the cellulose paper separator. Hydrogel is then used to coat the three units before the battery is baked in a vacuum oven. TechCrunch called hydrogel Flint's "secret sauce" because it "enables the electron transfer between the anode and cathode without the need for both the separator and electrolyte."

Despite changing the chemical makeup of the battery, the structure and manufacturing process remain the same, which leads Charles to believe that Flint's batteries will one day be used interchangeably with lithium-ion batteries.

"We can just use the existing technologies that are out there already, put in our recipe, and can easily have a production line with paper batteries," Charles said. "What's great about us is we're making it so easy for manufacturers and suppliers to just swap old lithium batteries with our paper batteries."

Charles added that zinc and manganese were chosen over lithium, cobalt, and nickel not only because they are more abundant materials but also because they are safer. They won't pose the issue of battery fires caused by traditional lithium batteries.

"You can literally cut our battery while it's in operation, and it will still continue working without overheating or exploding like what we expect lithium batteries to do," Charles said.

TechCrunch noted that Flint is "in the last leg of its journey to optimize the battery's chemistry." The company's long-term goal is to figure out how to reduce weight and volume and increase storage capacity, which would then make paper batteries more suitable for use in electric vehicles.

"We've been in talks with Airbus, which is trying to electrify their planes for the future," Charles said. "Long term, we'd like to be able to help them and make batteries with custom shaping, since they're paper and flexible. They could be the shape of a wing or of the entire curved body of the plane."

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