Space & Innovation

Edible Battery Could Power Ingestible Electronics

Caption: Christopher Bettinger eats his research.

Most people know it's not safe to eat batteries. They're toxic.

But a new kind of battery from researchers at Carnegie Mellon University has lead to non-toxic, edible batteries that could be used to power biomedical devices.

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The battery, developed by Chris Bettinger pictured above, is made from the natural pigment melanin, which the body uses to absorb ultraviolet light, protecting us from radiation damage. These pigments also bind and unbind metallic ions.

"We thought, this is basically a battery," Bettinger said in a press statement.

His team also turned to other naturally occurring compounds, including manganese oxide, sodium titanium phosphate, copper and iron.

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In experiments, the team found that they could power a 5 milliWatt device for up to 18 hours using 600 milligrams of active melanin material as the part of the battery that delivers the current.

Although the energy output is pretty low, the battery could work to power an ingestible drug-delivery device or some other kind of small electronic designed to sense internal functions, such as blood-sugar levels or drug levels.

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Bettinger said that a sensor could also track changes to a gut's microbiome then responding with a release of medicine.

Developing an edible shell casing in which to package the battery is the next step. The scientists are looking at pectin, a natural compound found in plants to create jams and jellies.

Overall, these batteries are sounding pretty tasty.