New piezoelectric generators will make self-powered pacemakers possible

Various wearable electronic devices need regular charging of their batteries – you already know that. However, some devices in people’s bodies are not that good with their batteries. For example, pacemakers require maintenance and batteries need to be changed.

But what if they could be powered by the heartbeat itself? With the new flexible and printable piezoelectric material, developed by Australian scientists, it is actually possible.

Thanks to new nano-thin generators it will be possible to power pacemakers from blood pressure energy. Image credit: Eshkarb via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Scientists at RMIT University have created a new piezoelectric material, which is 100,000 times thinner than a human hair and 800% more efficient than other piezoelectrics. It is so efficient that it would be possible to make pacemakers powered by the beating heart.

Nano-thin piezoelectrics are not entirely new, but previously they were not suitable to be used in bodies because they were made from toxic materials. This new one is based on non-toxic zinc oxide compatible with silicon and could be easily integrated in today’s electronics.

This new piezoelectric material is actually printed using liquid zinc oxide. When it is exposed to oxygen, a nano-thin skin is formed and can be rolled off the surface. This is a more complex process than it may seem, but it is scalable. Scientists believe that this manufacturing technology is commercially viable, especially having in mind how useful these piezoelectric nanogenerators could be in wearable electronics and implantable medical devices. This material produces electricity when it is bent. This would allow powering pacemakers by heartbeats or blood pressure alone. Scientists are now working on ultrasonic detectors for use in defence and infrastructure monitoring.

Dr Nasir Mahmood, lead researcher in this study, said: “We’re keen to explore commercial collaboration opportunities and work with relevant industries to bring future power-generating nanodevices to market”.

There have been attempts to make self-powered implantable medical electronics. However, scientists had to look for the right balance between the toxicity of the material and its efficiency. Meanwhile the new nanogenerator is non-toxic and 800% more efficient than other non-toxic piezoelectric materials. Scientists calculated that a single 1.1 nanometre layer of the new material can produce all the energy required for a fully self-powering nanodevice.

Pacemakers and other medical devices could take advantage of this technology, but there are other possible uses as well. For example, scientists think that this piezoelectric material could be used in sensors that measure stresses in various buildings. They will help achieve very low maintenance because batteries will never have to be changed.

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