Fuel cells are becoming more commonplace these days and are being integrated into everything from automobiles to mobile phones. Powered by hydrogen, methanol, and other non-petroleum substances, fuel cell technology is often touted as one of the upcoming forms of alternative, clean energy.
With new technology from MIT, you could soon be adding neural implants to the list of fuel-cell powered devices. That’s because MIT engineers have developed a fuel cell powered by the stuff that fuels our own bodies – glucose. The glucose-based fuel cell is fabricated on a silicon wafer, much in the same way that semiconductor chips are made, but uses a biocompatible platinum catalyst to strip electrons from glucose molecules to generate an electric current of up to 100 microwatts, which is enough power to drive a neural implant.
According to researchers, the glucose-based fuel cell will most likely first appear in the brain. They think that the cerebralspinal fluid (CSF) that bathes and protects the brain contains enough glucose to power the fuel cell without affecting the brain. Also, the CSF is a good location because it contains very few cells, which greatly reduces the chance of an immune response. If a brain implant’s electronics are low enough in power, the implant could theoretically be completely self-powered and not require battery replacements, a common problem with electronic implants today.
Flashbacks: “Mechanically Confined” Glucose BioFuel Cell Implanted in Rats; Future Implantable Devices May be Powered by Blood Glucose
Press release: New energy source for future medical implants: sugar
Open access article in PLoS ONE: A Glucose Fuel Cell for Implantable Brain–Machine Interfaces
(hat tip: ExtremeTech via reader Sam)