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Victoria leads charge for child-safe batteries

12 June 2014

Victoria leads charge for child-safe batteries

Innovative battery technology designed at Victoria University of Wellington could soon be helping to save the lives of young children all over the world.

Design lecturer Jeongbin Ok has hit upon a solution to minimise the damage of swallowing coin-sized, button cell lithium batteries, commonly found in electronic devices such as toys and remote controls, which can result in serious harm or death if not treated within two hours.

In collaboration with one of the world’s largest battery manufacturers, Mr Ok, who has qualifications in design and chemical engineering, has spent the last three years developing modifications to button batteries.

His invention involves applying a thin layer of highly concentrated food colouring to the surface of button batteries during production. The food colouring is activated by saliva.

“If a child swallows a battery it will immediately stain their mouth, so that caregivers know what has happened and can seek medical treatment immediately,” says Mr Ok.

To assess the viability of his invention, Viclink, Victoria’s commercialisation office, helped Mr Ok to identify a suitable partner, putting in place a joint development and licensing agreement. Mass production is expected to begin early next year.

“For Victoria University to be involved in a project that will have global implications for the safety of children is a great opportunity. I hope that once the product is commercialised it will become an industry standard,” he says.

Mr Ok is also working on new packaging technology to keep loose batteries secure and provide a safe way of disposing of used batteries.

His research has led to Victoria University being the only academic institution to partner in a national and global initiative, called The Battery Controlled, which is focused on preventing children from swallowing button batteries.

Mr Ok’s research has been conducted with support from the Consumer Product Safety Commission in the United States and Consumer Affairs New Zealand.

Some facts about button batteries

• From 2011 until 2013, the National Poisons Centre received 175 calls regarding button battery-related child injuries.
• Sixty-three children were treated at Starship Children’s Health emergency department from March 2009 until February 2012.
• Children under six years old are at the greatest risk of swallowing button batteries.
• When a button battery gets stuck in a child’s throat, their saliva triggers an electrical current that can severely burn the oesophagus in as little as two hours.
• Symptoms may be similar to other childhood illnesses, such as coughing, drooling and discomfort.
• When X-rayed, the battery can be mistaken for a coin.
• Once burning begins, damage can continue even after the battery is removed.



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