File this in fascinating and amazing potential uses of solar power. Swiss researchers are proposing that subcutaneous (under the skin) solar cells could continuously recharge implanted, life-saving electronic medical devices like a pacemaker or deep-brain stimulator.
Researchers at Bern University Hospital and the University of Bern in Switzerland, led by Lukas Bereuter, found that a solar cell that’s 3.6 square centimeters (smaller than some postage stamps) could be implanted under the skin and provide enough power during winter and summer to power a typical pacemaker. He and other researchers published their work in the Springer journal Annals of Biomedical Engineering.
Implanted devices like pacemakers and deep brain stimulators still need outside power sources like batteries to operate. However, batteries need to be recharged and sometimes replaced, which can lead to complications. Researchers have been investigating other alternatives and increasingly it appears solar power could be one.
Such devices haven’t been implanted yet, but Bereuter and his colleagues created a device that simulated how skin covering such a device would affect its ability to produce energy and power a device like a pacemaker, which typically uses up to 10 microwatts. The researchers developed 10 devices which were worn on the arms of 32 volunteers in Switzerland for one week during summer, autumn and winter. The tests found that the even participant with the lowest power output still obtained 12 microwatts on average.
"The overall mean power obtained is enough to completely power, for example, a pacemaker or at least extend the lifespan of any other active implant," Bereuter stated. "By using energy-harvesting devices such as solar cells to power an implant, device replacements may be avoided and the device size may be reduced dramatically."
With a solar-powered pacemaker, Bereuter theorized that the size of devices could be reduced because the battery sometimes governs the size. By implanting a power unit like a solar cell it also could avoid the need for additional surgeries over a patients’ lifetime.Tweet