Glucose is more than a sugar that is obtained from the foods we consume: it is the energy that makes every cell in our body work. And in the future it could also power our medical implants.
Engineers from MIT and the Technical University of Munich are betting on it. They created a new type of fuel cell that converts glucose into electricity without first turning it into hydrogen. And often only 400 nanometers, about 1/100 the thickness of a human hair, and generates about 43 microwatts of electricity per square centimeter - the highest power density at the moment.
The new device is also robust, can withstand temperatures up to 600 degrees Celsius, and waterproof. In other words, it can also withstand the high-temperature sterilization process that all implantable devices require when integrated into a medical implant.
How is the "glucose cell" made?
The heart of the new device is ceramic, a material that maintains its electrochemical properties at high temperatures and on a small scale. Researchers think they can get ultra-thin films to apply around implants to passively power electronics using our body's vast glucose reserves.
The glucose fuel cell is a device that generates energy from sugars, present everywhere in our body. The idea is to harvest this readily available energy and use it to recharge implanted devices, according to Philip Simons, who developed the project as part of his doctoral thesis in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at MIT.
"Instead of using a battery, which can occupy 90% of the volume of an implant, we could coat the implant with a thin film and power it without bulk," he says. Jennifer L.M. Rupp, supervisor of Simons and professor at the Technical University of Munich in Germany.
Simons and colleagues detail the glucose cell design in the journal Advanced Materials: Here is the link.
Because it is very important
With this project, researchers have opened a new path towards miniature power sources for implanted sensors and possibly other functions. The “strategic” use of ceramics is a turning point: non-toxic, economical, suitable for sterilization procedures. Really promising!