Edible, Biodegradable Batteries

Chris Bettinger, an assistant professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at Carnegie Mellon University recently presented his group’s work on an edible, nontoxic battery. A big obstacle with sending medical robots into the body is how they are powered. Batteries are usually made of toxic metals that can’t be ingested. Bettinger’s battery is made of melanin, a naturally occurring pigment in humans.

Image from NPR

The battery is roughly 2mm thick and up to half an inch in diameter. The prototype, encased in a shell made of gelatin material, has a life of about 16 hours, then degrades. But it doesn’t need to last long—it provides about half a volt of power, which can power a device for 20 hours. Sending electronics into the body will allow for targeted diagnoses and treatments to various conditions and diseases. This technology has the potential to detect bacteria or even for targeted drug delivery.

NPR reported that while the battery is biodegradable, “it’s unclear if a melanin-based battery is completely safe because nobody really knows what melanin is.” The battery needs to undergo clinical trials to determine if it creates any adverse affects on the body.

Read more at NPR.

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