Body Heat Can Provide Power To Medical Devices
When we are rushed to the hospital in shock or with a possible stroke or heart attack, we don't even think about the fact that, were it not for electricity or power generators in the hospital, there would be no current to run the medical devices used to save our lives. But in many countries, especially when disaster strikes a rural area, there are often no opportunities to use life saving technologies, because there are no sources of power.
Vladimir Leonov, a senior research scientist at IMEC, a Dutch research center in nanoelectronics and nano-technology, has developed two life-saving medical devices - an electroencephalograph (EEG) and and an electrocardiograph (ECG) that are powered by renewable sources of energy - the sun and body heat.
“You have a disaster,” says Leonov. “Airport closed, port closed. The devices that exist in a modern medical clinic can be miniaturized and fit in a suitcase. The devices can be self powered, without the doctor needing batteries or to plug anything in.”
Earlier attempts had been made to convert body movements into electrical energy (piezoelectric energy), but in many cases patients were lying still, so Leonov realized that body heat would be a better source of energy to store. And because his medical devices are miniaturized, their power needs are minimized too.
Leonov created miniature solar panels and used low energy thermophiles to convert heat from the human body to electrical energy. These thermopiles can generate 400 microvolts for every 34°F difference in temperature and convert 10 milliwatts of power from every 1.5 square inches of skin. Even if the ambient and surface temperature of the skin stays the same, a small variation in wind or light can generate electricity.
Though the prices of Leonov's miniature devices are too high to achieve widespread use, the technology to produce them is established by Leonov; it's the price of the parts that's keeping them from production. Nevertheless, Leonov projects that in the future these self-sustaining devices will even replace the big devices now used in hospitals.