July 5, 2019
A rarely considered possibility for energy harvesting in the body is using the flow of blood. The heart pumps five litres of the red stuff every minute.
Simon Sherrington, MD
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The solutions being chased down
One solution is piezoelectric energy harvesting. In simple terms piezoelectric energy harvesting converts mechanical stress – such as a finger pushing on a piezoelectric material – into a current that can then power a device. It has been proposed as a harvesting method for example in road surfaces, shoes, or as we will see in pacemakers. A multi-university group of South Korean researchers demonstrated its potential in a live pig. The team attached a flexible energy harvester to a pig’s heart. The harvester used the contraction and relaxation of the heart’s muscles to power a radio frequency device which transmitted a signal to an external device to turn a light bulb on and off. The team reported a harvested current of 1.75uA (with a voltage of 17.8V). Furthermore, the researchers said that their device showed high biocompatibility. The impressive results of this in vivo demonstration suggest potential applications as implanted heart monitors for those with heart disease.
At the University of Michigan a similar idea was investigated. The researchers simulated a device that harvests energy from the reverberations of heartbeats through the chest. The electricity so generated can then be used to power a pacemaker or defibrillator. In simulations the device was shown to produce 10mW of power, which is eight time more than that required to run a pacemaker.
A rarely considered possibility for energy harvesting in the body is using the flow of blood. The heart pumps five litres of the red stuff every minute. Scientists at Shanghai’s Fudan University in China have developed a novel method to harvest electricity from blood flow using a nano-device. The device, called a fibre-shaped fluidic nanogenerator (FFNG), is a thin carbon nanotube filament that is wound round a fibre core with a half micron diameter. It uses the flow of salt solutions through it to build a harvestable charge. The scientists claim that the power conversion efficiency of the device is high at 20% – which is significantly more than other miniature energy harvesting devices. The device also has characteristics making it suitable in this application: elasticity tunability, light weight, and one dimensionality. The team produced positive results of blood flow energy harvesting from frogs.
If harvesting energy through the methods above doesn’t achieve results it is possible to hook devices up to natural batteries in the body. These biological batteries are located in the ear and usually convert the mechanical activity of the eardrum vibrating into electrochemical signals to send sound information to the brain. To exploit this battery several US institutes – MIT, Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary (MEEI) and Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology – designed a device to harvest its power. The researchers developed a low-power chip that could utilise some of the power from the ‘battery’. The resulting device was then attached by wires to a guinea pig’s ear-battery. The chip itself rested outside the body of the guinea pig, but the team said that it is small enough to nestle in the cavity in the middle of the ear. The team believes that with further miniaturisation of the device it could be used for implanted self-powering hearing aids.
The prognosis is good
[Image licensed to Ingram Image]
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