LSU Mechanical Engineering Professor Researches Biodegradable, Metal-Free Batteries

Stock photo of a pile of discarded batteriesApril 1, 2024

BATON ROUGE, LA – Each year, Americans throw away more than 3 billion batteries, creating 180,000 tons of hazardous waste. Imagine how many more are discarded throughout the world. Thanks to a $50,000 grant, LSU Mechanical Engineering Associate Professor Ying Wang is exploring biodegradable, metal-free batteries that will be more sustainable in the medical field and less harmful on the environment.

“Developing batteries based on biocompatible, biodegradable electrodes as alternatives for powering IMDs (implantable medical devices) would lead to safer and more sustainable systems and reduce the cost in healthcare,” Wang said. “Additionally, biodegradable batteries can be used in surgical tools, point-of-care monitoring devices, and domains beyond healthcare, such as water-sensing systems, to reduce the environmental impact of batteries in general.”

According to Wang, current energy storage systems for powering IMDs and medical sensors are mainly based on primary batteries composed of lithium metal anodes with cathode materials, including iodine, manganese oxide, carbon monofluoride, silver vanadium oxide and hybrid cathodes, as well as secondary lithium-ion batteries that can be charged while remaining implanted. Encapsulation and insulation are needed for these batteries due to the toxicity of their base materials, which results in bulkier volume.

Also, current commercial batteries are mainly metal-based and manufactured from metallic elements, such as nickel, cobalt, and lithium, deeming them the new “petroleum” due to their scarcity.

“The dependence on metallic elements also causes environmental concerns due to the toxicity of some metals and lack of sustainability,” Wang said. “Metal-free batteries offer more affordable, sustainable, and environment-friendly alternatives to those using non-renewable metals.”

Wang also points out that most current batteries adopt organic solvents that are flammable and toxic, leading to a growing interest in studying batteries with water-based electrolytes that are safe, convenient, inexpensive, more durable, more ionic conductive, and less prone to thermal runaways.

Once testing and studies are complete for the one-year project, Wang and LSU AgCenter Assistant Professor of Research Maria Teresa Gutierrez-Wing plan to develop modules for young students in the Kenilworth Science and Technology Charter School Student Mentorship Program, where they will discuss the fundamentals of biocompatibility, biodegradability, and green energy storage for healthcare and environment systems.

“Through this joint effort, exposure of K-12 students to multidisciplinary concepts will be made possible,” Wang said.

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Contact: Libby Haydel
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