Ultra-flat, flexible and miniaturized, this deeptech’s eco-friendly battery could revolutionize the electronics industry. Present for the second year in a row at the CES of Las Vegas, the deeptech start-up from Grenoble, BeFC has bold ambitions.
From the idea of an implantable battery to a low-impact bio pile, there was only one way forward for BeFC. Spin-off of the CNRS, the Grenoble startup has relied on several decades of work carried out within the research centre, which has led to the filing of six patents in various fields: electronic engineering, bioelectrochemistry, “smart paper”… While the company originally intended to develop a new model of implantable bio piles, based on a pump system, its work has since been reoriented following a discovery made in collaboration with Dr Jules Hammond, with the development of a first battery in aqueous medium. “We then came up with the idea of producing a smaller battery, transferred to paper, and destined for the market of disposable components”, explains Dr Hammond.
Ending the lithium batteries pollution
Because the stakes are high: “We had noticed a trend within the Internet of Things (IoT) industry, which was to provide one-time connected packaging. In the health sector, for instance, sensors are integrated into single-use patches or products such as a pregnancy or ovulation test”, Hammond says.
However, until now, existing batteries, usually lithium-based, are being thrown into the garbage, without the capacity for any recycling or dismantlement.
This is an ecologically critical situation since, despite a collection rate of around 8%, miniature batteries could only be recycled in less than 3% of cases.
Thus, The biopile imagined by BeFC, based on paper and sugar, would instead make it possible to recycle batteries based on a recycling and energy transition alternative approach.
About the size of a button cell, this new technology aims to use microfluidics, inherent to paper, in order to attach it to an enzymatic process, allowing conversion of glucose and oxygen to electricity.
With several advantages on the paper side: “This allowed us to propose a thin, portable and light biopile, which can then be inserted into a large number of everyday objects: clothes, patches, etc..”, argues Jules Hammond.
Applications focused on the Internet of Things
It is also an opportunity to open up new markets for young start-ups, as this aspiring company has already imagined, they will be capable of integrating their disposable biopiles into applications, such as : logistics, through parcel tracking, medical devices, and all types of objects connected to the Internet.
Because of its small size and low power production, there’s no need to think about using BeFC biopiles in your car or smartphone. Rather, its future lies in low-power devices, where its economic and disposable character can become an asset. This is the case, for example, of connected objects, whose share is expected to grow by 2030.
“The IoT market is huge, with some studies predicting 24 billion connected devices within 10 years”, Hammond said.
Depending on usage, BeFC is able to adapt the characteristics of its batteries to provide energy that meets a more or less frequent consumption, in the order of microwatt or milliwatt. It all depends on the application context: “the lifetime of our biopile in a pregnancy test can be 5 to 10 minutes for quick use, or 2 to 3 weeks for a connected packaging, up to a month for other different uses, depending on whether the signal is to be sent every day or every two days,” added Jules Hammond.