Future neural prosthetics could not only tap into brain signals, but also brain fluids, using the cerebrospinal medium to power a fuel cell. Researchers at MIT designed a new silicon wafer with several embedded fuel cells that generate power using glucose.
The fuel cell creates a small electric current by harvesting electrons from glucose molecules — essentially the same method employed by cells, which degrade glucose into ATP. ATP transports energy within cells, driving metabolism. In this case, the fuel cell uses electrons to generate a few hundred microwatts of electricity.
Engineers led by Rahul Sarpeshkar fabricated the device on a silicon wafer, using the same methods employed by semiconductor fabricators. It uses a nanostructured platinum anode, which oxidizes glucose molecules, and single-walled carbon nanotubes form the cathode, which completes chemical reactions that reduce oxygen to water. The presence of the two components of the redox reaction could short-circuit the device, but Sarpeshkar’s team structured it to shield the anode while exposing the cathode to the body’s environs.