My friend, Dr. Alain Ripart – the Chief Scientific Officer at Ela Medical (now part of Sorin) showed me this interesting contraption from his personal collection. It is an experimental glucose-powered pacemaker developed in the 1970s. It generated electricity by acquiring its fuel (glucose) directly from a living body to generate enough current to charge two NiCd cells that powered the pacemaker.
Alain told that byproducts of the fuel cell’s operation necrotized tissue, so the concept was not developed into a human-use device at that time. The advent of lithium batteries relegated exotic power cells such as this fuel cell and atomic batteries to the backburner.
However, there has been a revival in the search for miniature power sources, especially towards the development of micro- and nano-implants. For example, MIT’s Technology Review reported in 2010 on a practical implantable glucose fuel-cell concept being developed by scientists at Joseph Fourier University in Grenoble, France.
More recently, in July 2011, the Forum for Applied Microsystems Technology Awarded the 2011 FAM Research Prize to Dr. Sven Kerzenmacher at the Department of Microsystems Engineering (IMTEK) of the University of Freiburg for his R&D on biological fuel cells to power implants.
Georgia Tech also recently reported on the development of a combined, fiber-based hybrid nanogenerator that consists of a mechanical vibration nanogenerator (FNG) and a biofuel cell (FBFC) and provides a peak output of 3.1 V and 200 nA.