Throughout the history of mankind, people have used the potential and kinetic energy of flowing water to ‘fuel’ mechanical contrivances, ranging from the rudimentary watermill to massive turbines. One of the primary reasons for such a technological pattern spanning over millennia relates to the intrinsic advantage of flowing water that is independent of other parameters like local weather and daylight. But what if this very scope could be scaled down to the point where our veins act as conduits that can harness power from blood flow? Well, a team of Chinese researchers at Fudan University has achieved exactly that, by developing a nanogenerator that can potentially harness electricity from the blood flow inside our veins.
The tiny device in question here is composed of an array of carbon nanotubes wrapped around a polymeric core. These nanotubes have the advantage of being electroactive and mechanically stable, while also being malleable enough to be spun into sheets. As for the power-harvesting side of affairs, the researchers connected their fiber-shaped fluidic nanogenerator or FFNG to electrodes, and the entire combination was dipped into flowing (saline) water. As the scientists said –
The electricity was derived from the relative movement between the FFNG and the solution. An electrical double layer is created around the fiber, and then the flowing solution distorts the symmetrical charge distribution, generating an electricity gradient along the long axis.
As for the practical side of affairs, we do not exactly know the magnitude of power generated by the tiny system. However, the scientists involved in the experiment have claimed that their nanogenerator has a power conversion efficiency of more than 20 percent when compared to other miniature energy-harvesting devices. Furthermore, the FFNG is touted to have the added advantages of flexibility, lightweight nature, and one-dimensionality.
Now lastly, the question naturally arises – what is the purpose of harvesting electricity from the blood flow inside our veins? Well, one of the potential ‘uses’ of the technological ambit pertains to a medical application where veins could be used as power plants for effective flow of blood. The other obvious commercial application relates to the wearable electronics when the device is woven into fabrics.
The research was originally published in the journal Angewandte Chemie.