Scientists Create Capsule-Sized Biobatteries to Power the Hard-to-Reach Small Intestines of Humans

What if in the future humans could swallow batteries that will power their bodies?

Such a possibility might seem ridiculous at first considering the fact that batteries are usually chunky and too big for humans to consume. But with the help of science, this idea could one day become a reality.

The small intestine, which wraps an average of 22 feet around the human gut, is difficult to access. Hence, Binghamton University researchers are offering capsule-sized biobatteries, as per a press release.

(Photo : Bingham University)

Biobatteries with Ingestible Cameras

Dr. Seokheun “Sean” Choi, a professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the Thomas J. Watson College of Engineering and Applied Science, and the lead author of the study said that they created biobatteries with ingestible cameras to reach the small intestine.

Choi claims that these batteries have a wide range of capabilities, including physical sensing, imaging, and even drug administration. However, power is a key issue. The electronics are currently powered by primary batteries, which have a limited amount of energy and cannot last for the long haul.

The Watson team’s approach is based on discoveries made by Choi over the past ten years regarding the use of bacteria to generate modest quantities of electricity that can power sensors and Wi-Fi connections for the Internet of Things (IoT).

The team explains that traditional batteries can be risky since wireless power transfer inside the human body is ineffective. They said that intestinal movement is too sluggish to harness mechanical energy and temperature differences are insufficient to capture thermal energy.

Meanwhile, the biobatteries developed by the research team use Bacillus subtilis bacteria that form spores and are dormant until they enter the small intestine.

Read Also: Zinc Batteries from Crab Shells? University of Maryland Develops New Power Cell

pH-Sensitive Membrane

The researchers used a pH-sensitive membrane that must meet specific requirements for activation so that the micro-fuel cell can function in the small intestine.

Choi explains that the esophagus in the digestive system has a neutral pH, similar to the small intestine, but the transit time is only 10 seconds. He added that due to the stomach’s extremely low pH, it will never activate there and will only ever function in the small intestine.

Choi is aware that some people may be reluctant to consume bacteria, but clarified that human bodies are already teeming with harmless microbes that support digestion and other bodily processes.

Despite the fact that this study has just been published, Choi and his team are already planning on enhancing the biobatteries. Once the fuel cell enters the small intestine, it can take up to an hour for it to fully germinate and the scientists want to make this process faster. 

The cell has a power density of about 100 microwatts per square centimeter, which is sufficient for wireless transmission but would provide ten times as many alternatives for application. 

The batteries would also need to undergo testing on both humans and animals, as well as biocompatibility research. 

Low-level microbial fuel cells have numerous potential applications, such as electrical stimulation devices, medication delivery systems, and biological and chemical sensors, according to Choi.

The scientists believe that their micro-fuel cell is promising but noted that it still has a long way to go. 

Related Article: Holy Grail’ of Batteries? These Lithium-Sulfur Power Cells Have Three Times the Capacity of a Standard Li-on Battery


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