IV and cellular fluids power flexible batteries

Researchers in China have engineered bendable batteries that can run on body-inspired liquids such as normal IV saline solution and cell-culture medium. In their work, published August 10 in the journal Chem, the authors designed alternatives to lithium-ion batteries by focusing on the mechanical-stress demands of wearable electronics such as smartwatches and the safety requirements of implantable electronics.

"Current batteries like the lithium-ion ones used in medical implants generally come in rigid shapes," says co-senior author Yonggang Wang, a chemistry professor at Fudan University and the Collaborative Innovation Center of Chemistry for Energy Materials. "Additionally, most of the reported flexible batteries are based on flammable organic or corrosive electrolytes, which suffer from safety hazards and poor biocompatibility for wearable devices, let alone implantable ones."

Safety measures for wearable and implantable batteries have generally involved structural reinforcement to prevent hazardous chemicals from leaking out. Instead, the researchers, led by Wang and macromolecular science professor Huisheng Peng, swapped out those toxic and flammable liquids for cheap and environmentally conscious sodium-ion solutions. Among those solutions were two biocompatible ones suitable for implantable devices, given that they pose no harm to the surface or interior of the body. Although electrolyte leakage is still undesired, its danger is minimized by the use of either the normal saline solution pumped into the body in most IV treatments or a cell-culture medium that contains amino acids, sugars, and vitamins in addition to sodium ions and thus mimics the fluid that surrounds human cells.

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