Humans have been harnessing the power of flowing water for thousands of years, but scaling the concept down to a size small enough to turn our veins into tiny power plants is something else altogether. Using principles similar to those deployed in large hydroelectric power plants, a team of Chinese researchers has developed a tiny nanogenerator that can potentially sit inside a vein and generate electricity from the flow of blood.
In 2011, Swiss researchers developed tiny turbines that could theoretically sit inside a human artery and generate a small amount of electricity from blood rushing through it. However, the turbine had a tendency to produce lethal blood clots, which reduced its potential applications somewhat.
Researchers at Fudan University have now created a new type of electricity-generating device based on an ordered array of carbon nanotubes wrapped around a polymeric core. Power is generated by what the team is calling a fiber-shaped fluidic nanognerator (FFNG).
"The electricity was derived from the relative movement between the FFNG and the solution," say the scientists. "An electrical double layer is created around the fiber, and then the flowing solution distorts the symmetrical charge distribution, generating an electricity gradient along the long axis."
It is unclear exactly how much power is generated by the device, but the scientists claim it is "high" compared to other miniature energy-harvesting devices, with a power conversion efficient of more than 20 percent. The technology is still in its early stages, but the researchers say that experiments with the device implanted into frogs have been successful, and could one day lead to the technology powering implanted medical devices in humans.
The research was published in the journal Angewandte Chemie.