Tiny turbine in human artery harvests energy from blood flow

May 20, 2011 by Lisa Zyga weblog
A turbine in an artery could harvest enough energy from blood flow to power implanted medical devices. Image credit: Alois Pfenniger, ARTORG Cardiovascular Engineering, University of Bern, Switzerland.

(PhysOrg.com) -- A small turbine located inside a millimeters-wide human artery could harvest enough energy from blood flow to power implanted medical devices, such as pacemakers and drug-delivery pumps. The concept has been presented by researchers at the University of Bern and the Bern University of Applied Sciences during the Microtechnologies in Medicine and Biology conference in Lucerne, Switzerland, earlier this month.

As mechanical engineer Alois Pfenniger of the University of Bern explained, the heart produces about 1-1.5 watts of hydraulic power, while a needs just 10 microwatts to operate. The researchers designed and tested three turbines inside a small tube that mimics the internal thoracic artery. The most efficient of the three turbines generated 800 microwatts, which is more than enough to power and other devices.

The turbines could also be used to power blood-pressure sensors, neurostimulators, and glucose meters, among other medical devices. Powering these devices with the body’s own energy has several advantages, such as eliminating the need for replaceable batteries and cables attached to an external power source. An independent power source means that the devices could also be miniaturized, allowing surgeons to implant them in ways that improve blood flow and reduce side effects. Smaller devices could also accommodate more diagnostic features and wireless communications, which researchers are continuously developing.

One of the biggest concerns with putting a turbine in an artery is the possibility of blood clots. The three test turbines all produced some turbulence, which could disrupt blood flow. The researchers plan to test new designs using computer simulations to minimize this turbulence.

The turbine design is not the first device that would harvest energy from tiny movements in the body. As noted by IEEE Spectrum, other devices have been demonstrated that harvest energy from changes in blood pressure, pulsing arteries, moving organs, and temperature gradients.

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More information:
via: IEEE Spectrum

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User comments : 20

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jscroft
3 / 5 (7) May 20, 2011
Yah this just sounds like a massive embolism waiting to happen. There are so many other power-generation options on the table, this one probably deserves to go the way of the mercury-vapor engine.
Noumenon
1.3 / 5 (9) May 20, 2011
Try it out on tree-huggers first.
kaasinees
2.8 / 5 (5) May 20, 2011
This is just stupid.
emsquared
3.3 / 5 (6) May 20, 2011
One of the biggest concerns with putting a turbine in an artery is the possibility of blood clots.

Really, Mr. Pfenniger?! You sure your ONLY concern shouldn't be that the heart is going to have to work harder to pump blood through that turbine, negating any long-term benefit the pacemaker will have?
jscroft
2 / 5 (4) May 20, 2011
@Noumenon: Yah, good call, genius. And how are you going to explain yourself if one survives?
spectator
5 / 5 (3) May 20, 2011
One of the biggest concerns with putting a turbine in an artery is the possibility of blood clots.

Really, Mr. Pfenniger?! You sure your ONLY concern shouldn't be that the heart is going to have to work harder to pump blood through that turbine, negating any long-term benefit the pacemaker will have?


10 microwatts is only 1/10,000 to 1/15,000 of the power output of the heart.

The gains in efficiency of the heart by correcting it's rythm is more than worth that. I think the gains in not having additional invasive power supply devices is also worth it.

What I would like to see is something a bit different than a turbine.

I'd like to see a molecular generator which could power itself by using glucose and oxygen from the blood stream. Not so good in Type 1 Diabetes patients, but would be a win/win situation in Type 2 diabete patients, by turning a bad thing, extra glucose, into energy to for implants.
emsquared
1 / 5 (6) May 20, 2011
The gains in efficiency of the heart by correcting it's rythm is more than worth that.

In the short term, perhaps. But instead of having an outside power source, which there are all kinds of options (micro-kinetic generator, maybe?) that won't put GREATER strain on your heart, you're going to make the heart work harder to try and help it? Idiotic.
10 microwatts is only 1/10,000 to 1/15,000 of the power output of the heart.

Simple physics here, TNSTAAFL.

Whatever the efficiency is of that turbine is going to be a direct decrease in efficiency of the heart.

It's going to have to work significantly harder to pump the same amount of blood, in so doing generating electricity to prevent the heart from having to do a less significant amount of work. Foolish.

But hey, I've got this wind turbine generator you strap onto your car, to power your car, that I will sell you. As you drive, it spins the blades and gives you power. Great deal, huh?
ac04605
1 / 5 (2) May 20, 2011
Kinda sounds like a pacemaker perpetual motion machine. I agree that putting such an object inside a patient with an already bum ticker sounds counterintuitive.
spectator
5 / 5 (7) May 20, 2011
But hey, I've got this wind turbine generator you strap onto your car, to power your car, that I will sell you. As you drive, it spins the blades and gives you power. Great deal, huh?


That's a terrible analogy.

A pacemaker does not "power" the heart. A pacemaker powers a tiny electrical pulse to correct the timing of the heart's beats.

The Krebbs cycle of individual heart muscle cells is what "powers" the heart.

The pacemaker would be analogous to the computer that controls the timing of the fuel injection in a modern automobile.
emsquared
1.4 / 5 (5) May 20, 2011
That's a terrible analogy.
...
The pacemaker would be analogous to the computer that controls the timing of the fuel injection in a modern automobile.

You're right in that it wasn't a terribly accurate analogy. Still not a good deal though.
axemaster
not rated yet May 20, 2011
It makes sense, but I wouldn't use a turbine... perhaps artificial cilia?
spectator
5 / 5 (2) May 20, 2011
At 10 microwatts, the pacemaker could run for 62.59 years on 1 gram of glucose, but that would be an ideal machine. A real machine might be 20 to 30 years per gram glucose.

I think the blood chemistry generator is the way to go, if someone could figure out how to make one, rather than any sort of turbine or piezoelectric generator.

Nobody except the most extreme type 1 diabetic is going to miss a microgram per day of glucose.
DiverseByDesign
not rated yet May 20, 2011
The tech is great. Regardless of it not exactly being the best idea.. at least they are trying. What scares me actually is the politics and economics of it all. My mother is on a heart medication pump. When I think of how the medical industry (her Dr.'s, drug reps, etc..) tried to work her over to get this thing installed in her I can just imagine how far these turbine people might go.. and with very little regard for the patient. I have seen it from the outside looking in.. it is a scary process and has the potential to be deadly. Even if the tech does makes sense.
kaasinees
1 / 5 (1) May 20, 2011
Nobody except the most extreme type 1 diabetic is going to miss a microgram per day of glucose.

By that time we will have a cure for that disease...
Birthmark
4.1 / 5 (7) May 20, 2011
People who make fun of "tree-huggers" are like kids who make fun of "nerds" You're not as intelligent or caring so you cover it up by degrading them; you guys are immature adults -- if I didn't see you, I'd honestly think you were 10 years-old.
MarkyMark
5 / 5 (2) May 21, 2011
Try it out on tree-huggers first.

I think there should be a age filter for this site so we dont have to see topics being cluttered with immature and content free poss like this. Anyway on the topic itself not sure if such tech is practicle considering the clotting problems you get.
Mahal_Kita
not rated yet May 21, 2011
In essence you don't want anything in arteries because of blood clotting. When a pacemaker just needs so little power then you could harvest radio waves. I know that's illegal, but hey..
aroc91
not rated yet May 21, 2011
harvest radio waves. I know that's illegal


Um, what?
macsglen
not rated yet May 21, 2011
"Excuse me, but I need to lie down for a moment . . . "
"What? Are you all right?"
"I'm fine; I just need to charge my cell phone."
jscroft
1 / 5 (2) May 23, 2011
People who make fun of "tree-huggers" are like kids who make fun of "nerds" You're not as intelligent or caring so you cover it up by degrading them...


Nah. We're more like professional soldiers who make fun of terrorists who talk a big game and then fire a magazine into the air with their eyes closed before soiling themselves and running like a pack of invertebrate Frenchmen.

Caring, huh. Maybe if you cared more about people than you do about trees, you'd get slapped around a little less.