Perpetually self-powered electronic systems that could be implanted into the human body and power cardiac pacemakers are being developed as a part of an EU-funded project.
The device, developed by a consortium led by the Tyndall National Institute at University College Cork, Ireland, will remove the need to replace batteries in conventional pacemakers, thus spare the patients the need to undergo further surgeries.
The project, named MANpower, has recently been awarded £5.1m of European funding, to research materials and suitable designs.
“Every time a human heart beats, it creates vibrations at a low frequency – about 1-30 Hz,” said Alan Mathewson, Principal Investigator at Tyndall and Head of the Heterogeneous Systems Integration group. “The devices we are developing convert the vibrations from the heart into usable electrical energy, which can be used to power devices such as a pacemaker.”
However, the team is aware that creating a self-sustaining and fully renewable source of energy for cardiac pacemakers might pose several challenges.
So far, harvesting energy at low frequencies has been difficult because of the characteristics of available materials. Until today, most such systems have relied on silicon and piezoelectric materials that are rather stiff and inefficient below 100Hz.
Despite the hindrances, the team believes such a device would have an extraordinary commercial potential – possibly enabling turning all sorts of low frequency vibrations related to human or vehicle motion into energy.
In order to be approved as an implant in human medicine, the device would need to have proven bio-compatible packaging that wouldn’t release any harmful substances into the patient's body.
The project brings together international experts from across Europe. Apart from the Tyndall National Institute, Germany’s Fraunhofer EMFT institute, the Cork Institute of Technology, the Technical University of Eindhoven, the Catholic University of Leuven, University Paris-Sud and private companies 3D Plus, Sorin and Communicraft are taking part in the venture.