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Scientists develop battery that dissolves in 30 minutes

Scientists at Iowa State University have created a self-destructing battery for use in transient devices.

Led by Reza Montazami, an Iowa State University assistant professor of mechanical engineering, the team created a 2.5-volt lithium-ion battery that can power a desktop calculator (for example) for 15 minutes, but will dissolve in about 30 minutes when exposed to water.

According to Montazami, who has been working on transient technology for years, this is the first transient battery to demonstrate the power, stability and shelf life for practical use.

Transient electronics is a relatively new field of study which involves the construction of devices that serve their function for a certain amount of time before completely dissolving when exposed to elements such as light, heat or liquid. Once dissolved, the device will not leave behind any polluting chemicals. This could result in environmental sensors that don’t need to be retrieved, temporary medical implants that don’t require removal and eco-friendly consumer electronics that dissolve when they are discarded.

A number of soluble materials have been developed over the years, however the creation of dissolvable batteries has remained a challenge for scientists until recently.

Professor Reza Montazami, left, and graduate student Yuanfen Chen
Professor Reza Montazami, left, and graduate student Yuanfen Chen

The battery created by the U.S. scientists is composed of eight layers including an anode, cathode and electrolyte separator, which are all contained within two layers of a polyvinyl alcohol-based polymer. This polymer swells and breaks apart when it gets wet, takes out the anode and cathode, and dissolves. The battery contains nanoparticles that do not degrade, however they do disperse as the battery’s casing breaks the electrodes apart.

Montazami refers to this as “physical-chemical hybrid transiency”.

As for applications that require more power and a longer-lasting charge, the scientists state in their research paper that larger batteries with higher capacities could provide more power, however they also take longer to destruct. Therefore, the scientists suggest that for such applications the connection of several smaller batteries would be a preferable option.

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