Rethinking Healthcare

How to turn human bodies into batteries

How to turn human bodies into batteries

Posting in Energy

Scientists have already electrified clams, insects, rats, rabbits, and snails to power small devices. They're now working on a fuel cell implant for humans that will harvest energy from blood glucose to fuel pacemakers and other in-body electronics.

You may have seen a human-powered blender at a street fair -- a person pedals a stationary bike with one rigged to the back and within a few minutes time, voila! you have a smoothie.

Converting the body's chemical energy into electrical power would require a lot less sweat, at least on the part of the human battery. According to Co.Exist, glucose harvested from our blood stream could fuel implanted fuel cells, which could then power in-body electronics like pacemakers.

That's an eventual goal of Clarkson University chemist Evgeny Katz.

His most recent biological fuel cell work has been in clams.

Co.Exist's Nidhi Subbaraman explains:

The star players of the bivalve battery, aside from the clams of course, are a natural enzyme and a form of carbon nanotubing that the authors call "buckypaper." The enzyme replaces the precious metals that sit inside most batteries as catalysts, and the buckypaper serves as the electrode, converting the glucose the clam produces after eating into electricity. Feed the clam, and you make electricity.

Three clams hooked up to a capacitor created almost 29 millijoules over an hour. That's about 1/2500th the amount of energy needed to fuel a 75-watt light bulb for a single second -- it's pocket change.  But, it's a start Katz says.

Before making clam batteries, Katz electrified  clams, insects, rats, rabbits, and snails. Up next? Lobsters.

Scientists see this cyborg-ization as an exciting source of cheap, non-polluting energy. Fuel cells implanted in animals could also power environmental sensors that could unobtrusively relay environmental data to researchers without ever needing to be recharged.

[via Co.Exist, Gizmodo, LiveScience]

Image: Journal of Energy & Environmental Science, Clarkson University, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev

Share this

Audrey Quinn

Contributing Writer

Audrey Quinn is a Brooklyn-based multimedia journalist focused on health, tech and the economy. Her radio stories can be heard on Marketplace, Studio 360, PRI's The World, NPR's Latino USA, Deutsche Welle Radio and The Believer Magazine podcast. In addition to her work with CBS Interactive she produces multimedia science stories for online publications and is a teaching assistant at the Transom Story Workshop. Her investigative work has been awarded by the Fund for Investigative Journalism and The Nation Institute’s Investigative Fund. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure