Colorado PROFILES, The Colorado Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute (CCTSI)
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Power Hungry: Fuel Cells Harvesting Biofluids for Renewable Power of Wearable Medical Devices

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Our ultimate goal is to create an alkaline fuel cell that uses blood sugars as a renewable power source for implantable and wearable medical devices. We believe the components and technologies needed to create such a device have come of age and that an opportunity exists to develop a system that integrates these components to produce a clinically viable system in terms of size, power, and efficiency. If successful, this will be a completely novel technology using blood sugar as a fuel source for an alkaline fuel cell. A fuel cell of this nature would enable long-term, renewable power for implanted and/or wearable medical devices. Circuits with super- capacitors or rechargeable batteries will help with power management4. In its final formulation, it is possible to envision a small spiral wound membrane-based fuel cell packaged into a device the size of three AA batteries that uses body-harvested sugars to produce electrical power for medical devices. For the purpose of this SPiRE development project as a first step we propose to develop an external glucose- based fuel cell as a technology demonstrator. Such a system might have advantages over standard battery technology in terms of energy density, size, and weight but the real goal is to allow us to research and address the pitfalls surrounding implementation of this technology and to enable us to have discussions with clinicians, such as vascular surgeons and the like, on how to best advance and deploy this technology in people. For this SPiRE award. We will: ? Create a bench-top fuel cell using off-the-shelf materials, an anion exchange membrane, and electronics. ? Develop an intrinsic fuel cell architecture using glucose as a fuel source as a proof-of-concept. The methods of this project build upon existing technical expertise, collaborations, and equipment already used by Dr. Weir?s and Dr. Pellegrino?s research groups. We will implement an alkaline electrolyte rather than the typical acid electrolyte. The alkaline electrolyte in our experiment is a solid polymer electrolyte known as an anion exchange membrane (AEM). Anion exchange membranes (AEM) offer benefits over traditional proton exchange membranes (PEM). Anion exchange membranes do not require noble metal catalysts and have low fuel crossover. AEM?s also have been shown to have high power density when compared to proton exchange membrane (PEM) glucose fuel cells. In our study, we will use a highly ionically conductive AEM developed and provided by Dr. Chulsung Bae of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI). This state-of-the-art membrane will reduce the need for a basic glucose media enabling in-vivo or ex-vivo bio-medical applications. Our membrane electrode assembly, consisting of the anode, cathode, and AEM, will be placed in a standard 10 cm2 fuel cell stack. We completely acknowledge that the route to fully implantable fuel cells must pass through other hurdles, such as biocompatibility; nonetheless, the current materials advances allow us to operate abiotic catalytic oxidation of glucose with locally high pH conditions. We will explore glucose concentrations which mimic the concentration in blood in anticipation of future development, and we will develop a prototype standalone appropriately packaged external fuel cell in a shape, size, and weight suitable for use in a trans-radial prosthesis. No human and/or animal research will take place at this early stage of development. Our team has experience across all aspects of the project. Dr. Pellegrino?s expertise in material science and membranes ensures the design of the fuel cell will improve upon prior technology. Dr. Segil?s electromechanical design experience in upper limb prosthetic components will inform the miniaturization and packaging of the device. Dr. Weir?s prior work on implantable sensors, wireless power technology, and medical device development will facilitate the design of the power stabilization electronics. 1
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