‘The prospects for this battery are exciting’

Battery technology doesn’t always have to provide hundreds of miles of electric vehicle range to be impressive.

Experts from China’s Tianjin University of Technology use a combination of gold, salt and the oxygen within us to create body-based batteries that can power pacemakers and other implanted devices. Fascinatingly, there’s even potential for the invention to have disease-fighting properties, according to a research summary from ScienceDaily.

To date, studies using the technology on rats have proven the concept to be compatible in a ‘biological system’ with no observable adverse effects. If the tiny power packs can be used in humans, they could replace the need for surgery when batteries fail in neurotransmitters and other life-saving implants.

“If you think about it, oxygen is the source of our life,” said corresponding study author Xizheng Liu in the ScienceDaily report. “If we can harness the body’s continuous supply of oxygen, battery life will not be limited by the finite materials in conventional batteries.”

Tianjin’s chemistry uses abundant oxygen, precious gold and common sodium. The sodium and gold form electrodes, a common battery component. The researchers said gold has very small pores – thousands of times smaller than the width of a human hair. That helps the chemistry work. The sodium/gold electrodes work with oxygen in the body to produce electricity, in a simplified explanation. A polymer case helps protect the device, all according to ScienceDaily.

More work needs to be done to find a way to produce enough energy to run medical devices. But the rats handled the implants well, proving that electricity can be generated using the body’s oxygen. The experts were also surprised to find blood vessels growing around the device.

“We were surprised by the unstable electricity production immediately after implantation,” Liu said in the lab report. ‘It turned out that we had to give the wound time to heal, so that the blood vessels around the battery could regenerate and supply oxygen, before the battery could provide stable electricity. This is a surprising and interesting finding because it means that the battery could help monitor wound healing.”

Tech experts elsewhere are developing unconventional batteries intended to power smaller devices, often wearable technology such as smartwatches. For example, researchers at North Carolina State are working on supercapacitors that can be woven into fabric. In other bizarre science, experts generate small amounts of energy from energy created when low-speed wind blows over water droplets. That juice could potentially power small lights or sensors.

While the electricity production from these projects may seem insignificant, it is part of innovative approaches to rethink the way we power things. Better battery technology leads to shorter charging time, which can also save you money.

Sometimes the research also leads to other breakthroughs. For example, Tianjin technology could one day help fight cancer.

“Because tumor cells are sensitive to oxygen levels, implanting this oxygen-consuming battery around them can help starve cancer. It is also possible to convert the battery energy into heat to kill cancer cells,” Liu said in the ScienceDaily report. “From a new energy source to potential biotherapies, the prospects for this battery are exciting.”

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