It is possible to harness power from muscle contractions within the human body. By using a small electromagnetic induction generator to stimulate strong muscle contractions in different parts of the body, another device which can convert those contractions into a rotational motion can generate electricity. In a study which used a leg muscle in a frog, it was proved that it required minimal electrical power in order to stimulate the muscle, and the power which was generated from the contraction was significantly higher that what was required. This new usage of relatively simple technology has the potential to replace lithium-ion batteries in powering implantable biotechnology.
The average adult human has about the same amount of energy stored within their body as a 1 ton battery.
Current designs for implants in knees, both through transplant surgeries and braces can harvest kinetic energy to power small devices. Other devices harnessing the power of thermodynamics and kinetic energy have been used in constantly changing/moving parts of the human body such as the heart, lungs, legs, etc.
Another source of energy is the endocochlear potential – a potential generated in the space in the ear across the membrane. This potential created from vibrations in the eardrum has enough power to theoretically power a small hearing aid/device. This could result in the first piece of biotech which is fully powered by the body, and is one step closer to actual integration.
The group “Biofueling Change” will be researching human “biofuels.” These are different power sources within the human body. Currently, there is lots of research being done on harnessing the power of the human body in order to power biotechnology. Biotechnological innovations such as a pacemaker currently require a lithium-ion battery. Not only are these harmful to the environment when disposed of, but they are foreign sources of power which are unnatural and potentially harmful to the human body. As biomedical engineering grows and becomes more extensive, natural and recyclable forms of power will be needed. Biomedical Engineers researching this hope that one day, technology will be developed that can essentially plug somewhere into the body, generating power and powering the devices of tomorrow.
The three branches of research that I have found are as follows. First, there is the power from human movement. Are bodies are constantly moving, from walking to our beating hearts. Piezoelectric materials such as the crystal in lighters which generates an electric spark are being used throughout the human body. Scientists have successfully generated a small amount of electricity by attaching a very small piece of piezoelectric cloth/material to internal organs. Second, there is the power from human body heat (thermodynamics). Certain materials have been recently developed which can generate electricity when exposed to high temperatures. When heated to the temperature of the human body, scientists have successfully generated a small amount of power. Finally, there is the power flowing through our blood. Artificial cells called Enzymatic Biofuel Cells (EFCs) target the plasma in human blood, extracting the glucose and using it to generate electricity. An EFC has been successfully implanted in a rat, where it generated a small amount of electricity successfully for 11 days.
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