Kombucha may have a surprising new use in tech

The bio-electric hybrid material could be used in wearable tech like smartwatches and heart monitors.
Pitcher and jar filled with kombucha on wooden kitchen counter

Dried kombucha starters are more flexible than many plastics used in electronics Deposit Photos

Kombucha emerged from relative obscurity seemingly out of nowhere a few years back, and quickly became a mainstay in most every major grocery store and DIY kitchen. Although it takes a few weeks to make on your own, the process is relatively simple enough: a combination of tea, sugar, healthy bacterias, and yeast mix together to create effervescent drinks often flavored in a variety of ways. 

The fermented tea’s numerous supposed benefits are somewhat debatable—advocates frequently tout kombucha helping to lower blood pressure, ease stomach issues, and even prevent cancer, although there remain few studies to support these lofty claims. But the fizzy drink’s trademark symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast (SCOBY) could soon provide concrete aid to the electronics industry—ironically, in the form of extremely flexible biomaterials.

[Related: Brewing your own kombucha is easier—and cheaper—than you may think.]

According to new findings from a team of researchers co-led by Andrew Adamatzky at the  University of the West of England, Bristol, dried mats made from the SCOBY floating atop kombucha batches can provide a malleable surface on which to print simple circuit boards. In addition to being more flexible than many conventional electronics, researchers argue the augmented kombucha surfaces could be cheaper, lighter, and far more eco-friendly than current options on the market.

As New Scientist also explains, the new kombucha mats work so well because they are naturally non-conductive. Therefore, electrical currents safely remain within the circuits installed by researchers via both an aerosol polymer spray and 3D-printing. To test it out, Adamatzky and their colleagues successfully installed tiny LEDs onto the circuits, which still worked after repeated stress tests.

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Dried kombucha is providing innovative uses across multiple industries in recent years. According to Ars Technica, it can already serve as a potential sustainable leather substitute. Last year, researchers showed that kombucha culture membranes could also be applied to enhance water filtration and purification systems. Although the dried format is naturally non-conductive, Adamatzky showed in a separate 2021 paper that living kombucha mats actually displayed dynamic electric activity, and later could even be used as a living biosensor device.

With further experimentation, researchers hope their kombucha-infused electronics might soon find their way into wearable electronics, such as smartwatches and heart rate monitors. For now, however, you’ll need to be content with just brewing your own batches at home. It’s easier than you think.