Power from the people

A team led by Dr. Serge Cosnier at the Joseph Fourier University of Grenoble has developed a biofuel cell that generates useful electricity using the body's glucose and oxygen.  The goal is to scale up the fuel cell so that it can power implants that currently require batteries that typically need to be replaced every few years.

The idea was first proposed in the 1970s but at that time the technology did not generate enough electricity to be useful.  Availability of carbon nanotubes as electrical conductors and research into metabolic enzymes has dramatically improved efficiency.  The enzyme glucose oxidase is particularly good at stripping electrons from glucose - combined with carbon nanotubes, it forms the anode of the cell.  The cathode uses carbon nanotubes and the enzyme polyphenol oxidase.  A prototype the size of a grain of rice has been tested in a rat for 40 days.  The next step is to scale up the device and implant it in a cow to determine if the biofuel cell can generate sufficient power to control a pacemaker. 

Cosnier and team published the open access paper A Glucose BioFuel Cell Implanted in Rats on May 4, 2010. 

Citation: Cinquin P, Gondran C, Giroud F, Mazabrard S, Pellissier A, et al. (2010) A Glucose BioFuel Cell Implanted in Rats. PLoS ONE 5(5): e10476. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0010476


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