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Monday Oct 03, 2022

Ultrathin Fuel Cell Makes Electricity from Your Body’s Sugar

This is what engineers at MIT and the Technical University of Munich believe. A new type of glucose fuel cell has been developed that converts glucose directly to electricity. This device measures only 400 nanometers thick and is about one-tenth of the width of a human’s hair. This sugary power source produces approximately 43 microwatts per sq. centimeter of electricity. It is the highest-powered glucose fuel cell in ambient conditions.

Rupp states that fuel cells convert energy directly rather than storing it in devices.

Recent years have seen scientists reexamine glucose fuel cells, which could be smaller power sources that are fueled directly from the body’s abundant glucose.

The basic structure of a glucose fuel cell consists of three layers: a top and bottom anodes, a middle electrolyte and a bottom catode. The anode reacts to glucose in bodily fluids and transforms the sugar into gluconic. The electrochemical conversion results in the release of a pair protons and two electrons. The middle electrolyte separates the protons and electrons. It then conducts the protons through a fuel cell where they combine with oxygen to create molecules of water. This harmless byproduct is then released into the body’s fluid. The isolated electrons are then transferred to an external circuit where they can be used for powering an electronic device.

The team sought to improve existing materials and designs by changing the electrolyte layer which is commonly made of polymers. However, polymers, due to their conductivity, can easily be degraded at high temperatures and are therefore difficult to maintain. They also make it difficult to sterilize. Researchers wondered if a ceramic, a heat-resistant material capable of naturally conducting protons, could be used as an electrolyte in glucose fuel cells.

This new device can withstand temperatures of up to 600 degrees Celsius (1.112 Fahrenheit). This high heat tolerance will allow the fuel cell to withstand high temperatures and be used in medical implants.

Ceramic is used as the core of the device. This material retains its electrochemical properties at low temperatures and on small scales. Researchers envision that the new design could be made into thin films or coatings, and wrapped around implants to passively provide power electronics.

Philipp Simons, a PhD student at MIT’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering, developed the design. “In our research, we demonstrate a new glucose fuel cells electrochemistry.”

Jennifer L.M. says that instead of using a battery which can take up 90% of the implant’s volume, a thin-film device could be made and would have a small volumetric footprint. Rupp is Simons’ thesis supervisor, a visiting professor in DMSE, and also associate professor of solid state electrolyte chemistry at Technical University Munich, Germany.

Simons and his co-authors recently described their design in the journal Advanced Materials. Rupp, Steven Schenk and Marco Gysel were co-authors.

Separation “hard”

Rupp, a specialist in ceramics, was inspired to create the new fuel cell when she took a routine glucose test towards the end of her first pregnancy.

Rupp recalls, “In the doctor’s office, I had been a very bored electronist, thinking about what you could do using sugar and electrochemistry.” “Then, I realized that it would be great to have a glucose-powered solid-state device. Philipp and I met over coffee, and Philipp wrote down the first drawings on a napkin.

This team isn’t the first to invent a glucose fuel cells. It was introduced in 1960s and demonstrated the potential to convert glucose’s chemical energy into electricity. However, glucose fuel cells were made from soft polymers at the time and quickly became obsolete by lithium-iodide battery, which would soon become the standard power source of medical implants such as the cardiac pacemaker.

Batteries are limited in their size, because of the physical requirements to store energy.

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