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article imageMaking batteries safer if kids swallow them

By Tim Sandle     Nov 10, 2014 in Technology
In every town at some point a child is admitted to hospital for swallowing a battery. The outcome can be serious: burns, damage to the digestive system, a torn esophagus. Researchers have investigated how to make batteries safer.
Scientists have found a new means to coat batteries to make them safer in the event that they are swallowed. This is with a special material that prevents the battery from conducting electricity after being swallowed. The new coating has been verified in animal tests (using pigs) where it was found that the new batteries did not damage the gastrointestinal (GI) tract.
The reason for focusing on conductivity is because when a battery is swallowed it can interact with liquids (like saliva) and this creates an electric current that produces hydroxide, a caustic ion that damages tissue through chemical burns. This is most common, and so at the greatest risk, with the circular silver disc shaped batteries.
The new coating is designed to only conduct under pressure. So, when a battery is securely in its compartment with the lid down it will conduct. However, when swallowed the same pressures are not applied, so the battery will not conduct electricity. The new coating is called a quantum tunneling composite (QTC). It is a rubber-like material, produced from silicone. To date, QTC has been implemented within clothing to make “smart”, touchable membrane control panels to control electronic devices within the clothing, e.g. mp3 players or mobile phones. This allows equipment to be operated without removing clothing layers or opening fastenings.
The work is important given that five billion batteries are produced in the U.S. alone each year. In addition, the types of batteries being produced are becoming more powerful, given the complexity of many electronic gadgets. Although batteries come with safety warnings and many can only be removed from their compartments with a screwdriver, batteries are still swallowed at an alarming rate (mainly by children.) In the U.S. alone, 3,461 ingestions were reported in 2009, and 3,366 in 2013.
The study was carried out at MIT, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and Massachusetts General Hospital. The project was led by Robert Langer, the David H. Koch Institute Professor at MIT and the research was funded by the National Institutes of Health. The findings have been published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The paper is headed “Simple battery armor to protect against gastrointestinal injury from accidental ingestion.”
More about Batteries, Kids, Swallow, ingest, battery acid
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