Flexible polymer could power future pacemakers non-stop

The polymer has many potential uses, including powering pacemakers without needing new batteries and keeping street lights on with energy from passing cars.
A few dark, transparent squares of the polymer sit on a petri dish a researcher is holding up to the sky, with a building visible behind the polymer sheets

Researchers have increased the electrical output of a flexible polymer.

What started out as a project that the Reserve Bank of Australia commissioned as a detection mechanism for counterfeit notes fast turned into potential for unexpected positive outcomes.

Amanda Ellis, a professor in the chemical engineering department at the University of Melbourne, says the polymer could become an energy transmitter for a pacemaker, negating the need for surgery each decade to replace the heart pump’s battery.

Capturing and transmitting the kinetic (movement) energy of the heart beating, the polymer would provide a continuous charge for the pacemaker battery; something previously considered impossible.

The polymer sheets look yellow, held up to light with a pair of tweezers
The polymer has a range of potential applications, from powering pacemakers to streetlights. (Credit: U. Melbourne)

In a different direction, the polymer could also be placed underneath road surfaces. By capturing the movement of cars passing over it, this energy could in turn power nearby streetlights, as an example.

The uses are plentiful, due in large part to the way the polymer is made. It is 3D printed aligning the polymer molecules to an embedded nanomaterial, a first for this type of material. Secondly, the polymer can be recycled, making it a more sustainable option. Where similar polymers must be discarded after use, the researchers have been able to dissolve the material and reprint it.

Another benefit: the production process is less energy intensive than many similar methods.

“We’ve worked out how we can manipulate things at a molecular level targeting the alignment of particles to reduce energy requirements. Previously we’d approached things at a macro level,” says Nick Shepelin, a PhD candidate.

Testing researchers carried out in the United States has also proven the polymer is biocompatible, allowing it to be used for medical purposes.

While enthusiastic about the future possibilities, the chemical engineers point out that the discovery is at an early stage. Next steps include production at scale and applications for further funding to undertake clinical trials.

Funding for the research came from the Australian Research Council’s Linkage Grant.

Source: University of Melbourne

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