Tag Archives: harvesting biomechanical motion

Developing self-powered batteries for pacemakers

Imagine having your chest cracked open every time your pacemaker needs to have its battery changed? It’s not a pleasant thought and researchers are working on a number of approaches to change that situation.  Scientists from the University of Michigan have presented the results from some preliminary testing of a device that harvests energy from heartbeats (from the Nov. 4, 2012 news release on EurekAlert),

In a preliminary study, researchers tested an energy-harvesting device that uses piezoelectricity — electrical charge generated from motion. The approach is a promising technological solution for pacemakers, because they require only small amounts of power to operate, said M. Amin Karami, Ph.D., lead author of the study and research fellow in the Department of Aerospace Engineering at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

Piezoelectricity might also power other implantable cardiac devices like defibrillators, which also have minimal energy needs, he said.

Today’s pacemakers must be replaced every five to seven years when their batteries run out, which is costly and inconvenient, Karami said.

A University of Michigan at Ann Arbor March 2, 2012 news release provides more technical detail about this energy-harvesting battery which the researchers had not then tested,

… A hundredth-of-an-inch thin slice of a special “piezoelectric” ceramic material would essentially catch heartbeat vibrations and briefly expand in response. Piezoelectric materials’ claim to fame is that they can convert mechanical stress (which causes them to expand) into an electric voltage.

Karami and his colleague Daniel Inman, chair of Aerospace Engineering at U-M, have precisely engineered the ceramic layer to a shape that can harvest vibrations across a broad range of frequencies. They also incorporated magnets, whose additional force field can drastically boost the electric signal that results from the vibrations.

The new device could generate 10 microwatts of power, which is about eight times the amount a pacemaker needs to operate, Karami said. It always generates more energy than the pacemaker requires, and it performs at heart rates from 7 to 700 beats per minute. That’s well below and above the normal range.

Karami and Inman originally designed the harvester for light unmanned airplanes, where it could generate power from wing vibrations.

Since March 2012, the researchers have tested the prototype (from the Nov. 4, 2012 news release on EurekAlert),

Researchers measured heartbeat-induced vibrations in the chest. Then, they used a “shaker” to reproduce the vibrations in the laboratory and connected it to a prototype cardiac energy harvester they developed. Measurements of the prototype’s performance, based on sets of 100 simulated heartbeats at various heart rates, showed the energy harvester performed as the scientists had predicted — generating more than 10 times the power than modern pacemakers require. The next step will be implanting the energy harvester, which is about half the size of batteries now used in pacemakers, Karami said. Researchers hope to integrate their technology into commercial pacemakers.

There are other teams working on energy-harvesting batteries, in my July 12, 2010 posting I mentioned a team led by Professor Zhong Lin Wang at Georgia Tech (Georgia Institute of Technology in the US) which is working on batteries that harvest energy from biomechanical motion such as heart beats, finger tapping, breathing, etc.

Finger pinches today, heartbeats tomorrow and electricity forever

Devices powered by energy generated and harvested from one’s own body have been of tremendous interest to me. Last year I mentioned some research in this area by Professor Zhong Lin Wang at Georgia Tech (Georgia Institute of Technology) in a July 12, 2010 posting. Well, Wang and his team recently announced that they have developed the first commercially viable nanogenerator. From the March 29, 2011 news item on Physorg.com,

After six years of intensive effort, scientists are reporting development of the first commercially viable nanogenerator, a flexible chip that can use body movements — a finger pinch now en route to a pulse beat in the future — to generate electricity. Speaking here today at the 241st National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society, they described boosting the device’s power output by thousands times and its voltage by 150 times to finally move it out of the lab and toward everyday life.

“This development represents a milestone toward producing portable electronics that can be powered by body movements without the use of batteries or electrical outlets,” said lead scientist Zhong Lin Wang, Ph.D. “Our nanogenerators are poised to change lives in the future. Their potential is only limited by one’s imagination.”

Here’s how it works  (from Kit Eaton’s article on Fast Company),

The trick used by Dr. Zhong Lin Wang’s team has been to utilize nanowires made of zinc oxide (ZnO). ZnO is a piezoelectric material–meaning it changes shape slightly when an electrical field is applied across it, or a current is generated when it’s flexed by an external force. By combining nanoscopic wires (each 500 times narrower than a human hair) of ZnO into a flexible bundle, the team found it could generate truly workable amounts of energy. The bundle is actually bonded to a flexible polymer slice, and in the experimental setup five pinky-nail-size nanogenerators were stacked up to create a power supply that can push out 1 micro Amp at about 3 volts. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but it was enough to power an LED and an LCD screen in a demonstration of the technology’s effectiveness.

Dexter Johnson at Nanoclast on the IEEE (Institute of Electrical Engineering and Electronics) website notes in his March 30, 2010 posting (http://spectrum.ieee.org/nanoclast/semiconductors/nanotechnology/powering-our-electronic-devices-with-nanogenerators-looks-more-feasible) that the nanogenerator’s commercial viability is dependent on work being done at the University of Illinois,

I would have happily chalked this story [about the nanogenerator] up to one more excellent job of getting nanomaterial research into the mainstream press, but because of recent work by Eric Pop and his colleagues at the University of Illinois’s Beckman Institute in reducing the energy consumed by electronic devices it seems a bit more intriguing now.

So low is the energy consumption of the electronics proposed by the University of Illinois research it is to the point where a mobile device may not need a battery but could possibly operate on the energy generated from piezoelectric-enabled nanogenerators contained within such devices like those proposed by Wang.

I have a suspicion it’s going to be a while before I will be wearing nanogenerators to harvest the electricity my body produces. Meanwhile, I have some questions about the possible uses for nanogenerators (from the Kit Eaton article),

The search for tiny power generator technology has slowly inched forward for years for good reason–there are a trillion medical and surveillance uses–not to mention countless consumer electronics applications– for a system that could grab electrical power from something nearby that’s moving even just a tiny bit. Imagine an implanted insulin pump, or a pacemaker that’s powered by the throbbing of the heart or blood vessels nearby (and then imagine the pacemaker powering the heart, which is powered by the pacemaker, and so on and so on….) and you see how useful such a system could be.

It’s the reference to surveillance that makes me a little uneasy.

Harvesting biomechanical energy

Even before noting the vampire battery work being done at the University of British Columbia (April 3, 2009) , I’ve been quite interested in self-powered batteries. (As for why it’s a ‘vampire’, researchers are working on a battery fueled by by a patient’s own blood so that theoretically someone with a pacemaker or a deep brain stimulator would require fewer battery changes, i.e., fewer operations.)

Professor Zhong Lin Wang at Georgia Tech (Georgia Institute of Technology in the US) is taking another approach to self-powered batteries by harvesting irregular mechanical motion (such as heart beats, finger tapping, breathing, vocal cord vibrations, etc.) in a field that’s been termed nanopiezotronics. Michael Berger at Nanowerk has written an article spotlighting Professor Wang’s work and its progress. From the article,

“Our experiments clearly show that the in vivo application of our single-wire nanogenerator for harvesting biomechanical energy inside a live animal works,” says Wang. “The nanogenerator has successfully converted the mechanical vibration energy from normal breathing and a heartbeat into electricity.”

He concludes that his team’s research shows a feasible approach to scavenge the biomechanical energy inside the body, such as heart beat, blood flow, muscle stretching, or even irregular vibration. “This work presents a crucial step towards implantable self-powered nanosystems.”

There’s still a lot of work to be done before human clinical trials (let alone thinking about products in the marketplace),

…  Wang tells Nanowerk. “However, the applications of the nanogenerators under in vivo and in vitro environments are distinct. Some crucial problems need to be addressed before using these devices in the human body, such as biocompatibility and toxicity.”

If you’re interested in the details about what the researchers are doing, please do read Berger’s fascinating investigation into the area of research.