Bio-Powered Devices

Electronic devices basically rely on electricity generated from a socket in the wall or an attached battery to power its functions. However, the reliance on these power sources limits them from being ideal for certain situations. These devices won’t be able to work in places where there are no power outlets. It is also inconvenient and sometimes risky to have to keep replacing or recharging the batteries of devices, like electronic implants, which are not within reasonable access. This is where biofuel cells come in.

BBC News published an article online highlighting the recent breakthrough in bio-derived power. A team headed by Dr. Serge Cosnier at the Joseph Fourier University of Grenoble in France developed a device they call biofuel cell. The team has high hopes for it as a power source for medical implants. The device generates electricity merely from glucose and water, substances readily present inside the human body. They are the first in the world to demonstrate a working implant device in a living animal. In this case, they showed it working inside of a rat. This is by no means the first bio-powered device. There have been many efforts made in the past. However, many of those past devices failed to generate enough energy for them to operate reliably.

So how exactly does it work? The picture above shows what the device looks like inside. It may just look like a bunch of coils but those are actually compressed enzymes and carbon nanotubes. The mechanism of the device is rather straightforward. It contains two kinds of enzymes. The first kind removes electrons from glucose. The second one adds electrons to molecules of oxygen and hydrogen, in effect forming water.  The carbon nanotubes act as conductors of electricity. Basically, between the action of removing and then adding electrons, an electrical current is generated. This electrical current is then used to power the device.

The image above gives a perspective on the size of the team’s device. This was what was implanted on the rat in their experiment.

The image directly above shows the mesh covering that is used to encase the device. Its purpose is to protect the device from the immune system of the body while still allowing the glucose and water to flow in. 
Biofuel cells are seen as sustainable because it can, in theory, keep working indefinitely in environments where glucose and water are present. Because the human body contains abundant amounts of glucose and water, the device will not stop working. Conventional batteries usually use power that is stored within it. When the power runs dry, it stops working. 

There are many applications for biofuel cells. As was mentioned, it has incredible potential as a power source for medical implants. At the present, implants are powered by batteries. When the batteries are depleted, the device would have to be surgically removed and then replaced. This is often inconvenient and risky for the patients. For instance, a pacemaker, a device that regulates the beating of the heart, would last about 5 years before it has to be replaced.  If it was powered by biofuel cells, this won’t be necessary. 

Of course, there are still some more research and advancements to be done before this can become a reality. The team estimates that in a decade or two, a workable implant for people can be created. Until then, there is a lot to look forward to in the future. Such a device will be very beneficial, whether it be for powering implants, for using in places where there are no power outlets, or for other similar functions. I believe that a big revolution in human efficiency and livelihood will happen once bio-sourced power is perfected. 

Source: BBC News

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