The researchers from MIT have designed a new silicon wafer with several embedded fuel cells that generate power using glucose. The fuel cell creates a small amount of electric current from the electrons of glucose molecules. It uses the same method that is used by cells to degrade glucose into ATP. ATP drives metabolism in the body by transporting energy within the cells. In this case, the fuel cell uses electrons to generate a few hundred microwatts of electricity.
The team of engineers, which was led by Rahul Sarpeshkar used the same methods in fabrication of the device on silicon wafer, as employed by semiconductor fabricators. It uses a nanostructured platinum anode, which oxidizes glucose molecules, and single-walled carbon nanotubes form the cathode, which completes chemical reactions that reduce oxygen to water. Redox reaction between such components can short-circuit, but the team structured it to shield the anode while exposing the cathode to the body’s environs.
They were able to run some computer models to determine the amount of energy available in cerebrospinal fluid, and the amount needed by the device to operate effectively. Since spinal fluid circulates continually and contains plenty of glucose, the team figures they could harness at least 1 megawatt of energy without any adverse effects on the brain. Lack of immune cells in that fluid is another advantage of it. There would likely to be no immune response causing the body to reject the fuel cell.
There is still a long way in powering a complete plant with this technology, but it is proved that it can work. The body may be able to provide all the energy that the device would need. A paper describing the fuel cell appeared in the journal PLoS One.