New glucose fuel cell uses body’s own sugar to produce electricity, explain engineers


Glucose is the sugar that is absorbed from the foods that we consume. Glucose is the fuel that provides energy to every cell in the body. Could glucose also work as fuel for future medical implants?

Yes, this is what engineers at Technical University of Munich and MIT opine. The team of engineers have designed a new kind of glucose fuel cell that directly converts glucose into electricity.

In terms of size, the device is smaller than glucose fuel cells that have been proposed, with dimensions of 400 nanometers thickness, or about 1/100th diameter of human hair. The sugary power source produces about 43 microwatts per square centimetre of electricity to result into highest power density attained by any glucose fuel cell till date under ambient conditions.

Besides this, the new device is resilient and can withstand temperatures up to 600 degree Celsius. This strengthens their use in medical implant, with the fuel cell to remain stable through high-temperature sterilization process required for all implantable devices.

Composition-wise, the heart of the new device is made of ceramic, a material that maintains its electrochemical properties even at miniature scales and high temperatures. The new design could be transformed into ultrathin films or coatings and swathed around implants to power electronics passively with the abundant supply of glucose in the body.

Glucose is present everywhere in the body, and the idea is to use this readily available energy and use it to power implantable devices, stated the designer of the device.

Importantly, the work shows a new glucose fuel cell electrochemistry.

Using glucose fuel cell offers multiple advantages: Enables to fabricate a device with a thin film, provides a power source with no volumetric footprint, and replaces a battery that takes up 90 percent of volume of an implant.

Edward Turner

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