MIT Develops a Fuel Cell Implant That Runs on Sugar, Turns Carbs Into Electricity
By Kevin Lee
The biggest hurdle we face with implantable chips is that they need to run off of a limited power supply that inevitably needs to be replaced. MIT engineers may have cracked this problem with a new implantable fuel cell that runs off the same sugars you got from your morning bowl of Wheaties.
MIT’s fuel cell is built upon a silicon wafer laced with a platinum catalyst that strips electrons from glucose. The chip is able to draw energy from the same sugars that your cells’ mitochondria digests to generate the adenosine triphosphates (ATP) that powers your cells.
So far, the prototype fuel cell can generate hundreds of microwatts, which happens to be enough to power an ultra-low-power neural implant. These fuel cells could potentially be integrated into long-term brain implants that help the disabled with “brain-control” interfaces or a neural prosthesis.
The team calculated that the chips would be able to draw all the energy they need from the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) that bathes the human brain. According to the researchers, CSF contains very few cells that would provoke an immune response. The fluid also carries more than enough energy to power the chip along your brain cells at the same time.
The engineers say that their research is still years away from real medical use, but their proof of concept is a good first step toward developing an implant that does not require an external power source. The next step for the research will be to demonstrate that the system can work in a living animal.