Researchers at the Georgia Tech and Korea University believe they have found a way to power implantable medical devices like pacemakers with a new fuel cell made from cotton fiber. The glucose-powered biofuel cell could provide twice as much power as conventional options.
In a paper highlighting the discovery, the researchers explained they were able to assemble gold nanoparticles on cotton fiber. The process creates high-conductivity electrodes that help to improve the efficiency of the fuel cell. It also made it possible to connect the enzyme used to oxidize or chemically combine glucose with an electrode. By doing that, the fuel cell is able to generate continuous power source by converting chemical energy from glucose found in the body into electrical energy needed to power a medical device.
The biofuel cell isn't the first to feed off of glucose. The real novelty of the discovery is that the entire process is enabled by cotton. It is more porous than nylon fiber that would typically be used, and those pores help improve the conductivity of the electrodes and support the activity that occurs in electrochemical devices. The researchers believe the cotton fiber may also improve the biocompatibility of devices that operate inside the body.
If the researchers are able to put their findings to use, they could greatly extend the life of implantable medical devices. That could save people who use devices like pacemakers or sensors from having to undergo surgery to replace a dying battery. It also opens new possibilities for temporary implantable devices. The biofuel cell could take the place of a battery and power an implanted device designed to biodegrade over time without requiring surgery to remove it.