A flexible nanogenerator made from tiny carbon rods will be able to generate electricity using the blood that flows through our veins.
Flowing water has been used as a source of energy for thousands of years. Right up to the beginning of the 20th century, water was normally used to provide mechanical power in mills. Today, its primary application is the generation of electricity. Researchers now want to take this principle and apply it in miniature form within the human body. As just one example, it could be used to generate energy for implanted medical devices.
A team of researchers from Fudan University in Shanghai have developed a power generator made from carbon nanotube fibers, which convert the energy of blood flowing through a person’s veins into electricity. Less than a millimeter in diameter, the fibers are relatively simple in structure: They are made of a polymer fiber core wrapped in tiny carbon tubes. The scientists call the threads that are formed “fiber-shaped fluidic nanogenerators” (FFNG).
Energy Through Surface Friction
The carbon nanotubes don’t simply offer a high level of mechanical stability — they also impress with their optimal electrical properties: If they are held in flowing water or repeatedly dipped in and out of a saltwater solution, the electric charge is shifted to the surface of the thread, generating an electrochemical gradient. “The electricity was derived from the relative movement between the FFNG and the solution,” explains scientist Huisheng Peng.
The nanogenerator is not the first attempt to develop technology that can produce an electrical current in blood vessels. As early as 2011, Swiss researchers presented a mini turbine that could potentially be used to power devices like pacemakers. However, there was a significant risk that the technology could cause dangerous blood clots, so it was never established.
The Chinese scientists want to avoid such side effects with their nanofiber. It is so slim and flexible that it can adjust to the blood vessels, ensuring they never cause any blockage. In addition, its degree of effectiveness is over 20 percent — higher than any other technology of its kind. If an elastic substrate were used as the basis for the nanocarbon layers, it may even be possible to develop an extendable FFNG, according to the scientists. They say this could also open up a wealth of other innovative potential applications alongside use in the medical sector, such as in electronic textiles and fabrics.