Science & Technology

Scientists Can Harvest Electricity From Your Bloodstream

Humans have used water to generate energy for literally thousands of years. From watermills that power factories to hydroelectric dams that power, well, all of Nevada, flowing water has proven to be one of the handiest sources of energy there is. What if we could do the same thing with flowing blood? (Asking for a friend.) In 2017, Chinese scientists announced that they had developed a device to do just that.

Hook It To My Veins

This isn't the first time scientists have gone all Dracula on power generation. In 2011, Swiss researchers shrunk down a hydroelectric turbine to the size of a blood vessel and demonstrated its ability to produce electricity in a tube designed to mimic a human artery. However, all the moving pieces had the potential to produce blood clots.

But this time, researchers from the Laboratory of Advanced Materials at Fudan University in China came up with a solution that has no moving parts. They call it a "fluidic nanogenerator fiber", or FFNG, and it's a long fiber less than a millimeter thick that generates power simply from the movement of blood (or saline solution, if that's your thing). They created it by wrapping a polymer core with carbon nanotubes, these impossibly thin structures of carbon atoms that conduct electricity better than copper. When they connected the FFNG to electrodes and immersed it in flowing water, it generated electricity with a power conversion efficiency of up to 23.3 percent. That might sound low, but it's actually pretty good. The most efficient solar panels are rated around 22.5 percent efficiency, with most in the range of 14–16 percent, according to the solar-panel marketplace EnergySage.

Other Applications

It's not yet clear just how much electricity the FFNG could generate. Could it power a pacemaker? A diabetic blood-glucose tester? Could you use it in other materials that don't involve blood? The researchers haven't explored all of the options yet, but it's possible that in the future, you'll discover that the power you need was in you all along.

Spinning A Thread From A Carbon Nanotube Forest

Written by Ashley Hamer September 21, 2017

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