Swiss scientists from the Bern University Hospital and the University of Bern have determined that a pacemaker could run on solar power. Their technology, which has already been tested with human volunteers, replaces the need for medical procedures to change or charge batteries. The details are in a paper that was just published in the journal Annals of Biomedical Engineering.
Electronic implants, including pacemakers, use batteries that need to eventually be charged or replaced. Patients must undergo surgery in order to replace the batteries. Solar power would be more efficient and would eliminate these problems. There had been some research on using solar energy to power implants in the past but no working prototypes had been developed.
A team of researchers used special devices that could measure the energy output of solar power. They tested tiny solar cells that could be incorporated into pacemakers and similar devices. The solar cells were only about 3.6 square centimeters. The team recruited 32 volunteers to wear the cells to test their real-world viability. The cells were covered with material that mimicked the amount of light that would be blocked by a patient’s skin. This allowed the researchers to see if enough light could penetrate and if the cells could run on solar power alone.
The volunteers wore the solar cells for one week in summer, one week in autumn, and one week in winter. Even in the dark days of winter, the cells generated enough power to run a pacemaker. A pacemaker requires up to 10 microwatts of power. The minimum amount of energy generated by the solar cells was 12 microwatts—more than enough to power the device.
The team’s findings suggest that solar power alone would be enough to power pacemakers and other implantable devices. This would prevent patients from having to go in for medical procedures to replace or charge pacemaker batteries.
Bereuter et al. Energy Harvesting by Subcutaneous Solar Cells: A Long-Term Study on Achievable Energy Output. Annals of Biomedical Engineering (2017).