What if there was a piece of ultrathin technology that powered sugar out of the human body?
Researchers at MIT and the Technical University of Munich answered that question using a new piece of mini tech – a small, but powerful, fuel cell.
This new and improved glucose fuel cell takes glucose that is absorbed from food by the human body and turns it into electricity, according to MIT News. That electricity can make small implants while also able to withstand up to 600 degrees Celsius – or 1112 degrees Fahrenheit – and measures just 400 nanometers thick.
400 nanometers is about 1/100 of the diameter of a human hair.
The device itself is made from ceramic, which allows it to be made in such a small size and withstand extremely hot temperatures.
With a thin piece of technology, it can be wrapped around implants to use while using the glucose found in the body.
“Glucose is everywhere in the body, and the idea is to harvest this readily available energy and use it to power implantable devices. In our work we demonstrate a new glucose fuel cell electrochemistry,” he said. Philipp Simons, who developed the design as part of his doctorate thesis.
Jennifer LM Rupp, supervisor of Simons’s thesis, said that while a battery can take up 90% of the implant’s volume, this technology can be a source of power without a “volumetric footprint.”
Rupp first had the idea for the fuel cell after getting a glucose test near the end of her pregnancy.
“In the doctor’s office, I was so bored electrochemist, wondering what you could do with sugar and electrochemistry. Then I realized, it’s good to have a glucose-powered solid state device. And Philipp and I met for coffee and wrote the first drawings on a napkin, ”he said.
The “basic” glucose fuel cell consists of a top anode, a middle electrolyte, and a lower cathode. The MIT team specifically looked at the middle electrolyte layer to improve existing device models.
The middle layer is usually made of polymers that can be damaged at high temperatures making it difficult to use for implants that have to go through an extremely hot sterilization process. Polymers are also difficult to use on a small scale.
With that the researchers began to focus their attention on ceramic as their stellar material.
“If you think of ceramics for such a glucose fuel cell, they have the advantages of long-term durability, low scalability, and silicon chip compatibility. They are tough and durable,” Rupp said.
The specific ceramic material used is called ceria.
“Ceria is being actively studied in the cancer research community. It is also similar to zirconia, which is used in dental implants, and is biocompatible and safe,” Simons said.
The researchers “are opening up a new route to small power sources for implanted sensors and possibly other functions,” said Truls Norby, a professor of chemistry at the University of Oslo in Norway. “The ceramics used are non -toxic, inexpensive, and not least inert under body conditions and sterilization conditions prior to planting. The concept and demonstration so far have been excellent.”
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