When you think of batteries, you likely think about them powering up remote controls, cell phones, flashlights, and toys. (And hopefully you don’t fall for these battery myths.) But some people carry a battery around in their body to power a pacemaker, which isn’t a pleasant thought considering that batteries need to be replaced every so often and they can leak toxic chemicals. Battery-powered pacemakers may become a thing of the past, thanks to a new technology developed by UCLA researchers: A biological supercapacitator—thinner than a strand of hair—can draw energy from the body itself to power implanted devices.
Teams of researchers at UCLA and the University of Connecticut published a paper in the journal Advanced Energy Materials explaining their new invention. The supercapacitator is made of graphene, a neutral carbon nanomaterial, and coated with human-like proteins that act as electrodes. The device is powered by an energy harvester that converts body heat and movement and ions in the blood into energy.
Traditional pacemakers are six to eight millimeters thick, far bigger than the supercapacitor, which, due to its lack of battery, is only one micrometer thick. The smaller size could benefit the device’s energy efficiency, say the researchers. Also, unlike the lithium camera batteries used in medical implants, the gadget can bend and twist in the body without suffering damage.
Though they’ve not been widely used in the medical world, supercapacitors have the ability to serve as a safer and more efficient medical device than the traditional battery-operated devices, the researchers believe.
“In order to be effective, battery-free pacemakers must have supercapacitors that can capture, store, and transport energy, and commercial supercapacitors are too slow to make it work,” said Maher El-Kady, a UCLA postdoctoral researcher and a co-author of the study, in an article on Phys.org . “Our research focused on custom-designing our supercapacitor to capture energy effectively, and finding a way to make it compatible with the human body.”