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Biotech Science

Harvesting Energy from the Human Body 160

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the thats-nothing-compared-to-what-i-harvest-from-mine dept.
Late-Eight writes "Scientists at the Georgia Institute of Technology are working on a new type of nanogenerator that could draw necessary energy from flowing blood in the human body. The hope is to incorporate the new nanogenerator into biosensors, environmental monitoring devices and even personal electronics that will require no fuel source, internal or external. Once completed, this new cellular engine could find various applications, even beyond medicine."
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Harvesting Energy from the Human Body

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  • Hmm... (Score:1, Funny)

    by Maxhrk (680390) *
    My laptop is running out of bloods... hmm.. Be right back, i will need refill my laptop with my bloods. bbl.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward
      You moms lives off of salty protein and it works fine. Slashdotters, line up at the powerplant!!
  • by Anonymous Coward
    and Copper Top jokes.
  • by Eddi3 (1046882) on Sunday July 22, 2007 @09:25AM (#19945721) Homepage Journal
    In the end, this isn't just harvesting unused energy; There's no such thing. It has to come from somewhere. In this case, doesn't it come from the energy the heart is exerting to pump blood? Is it possible that this could have some long term side effects, due to slightly more stress on the heart?
    • by ookabooka (731013)
      More like it could develop into a new weight loss program. Realistically though, the power that it would end up draining is probably negligible.
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Eddi3 (1046882)
        You seem to feel very confident in saying that, However that's exactly what I'm wondering: Is is negligible? Really?

        I just think we should be sure about it first.
        • by ookabooka (731013) on Sunday July 22, 2007 @10:02AM (#19945967)
          Ugh, fine. . make me RTF :-p Yes I'd call it negligible, they say that their current design can do a few nanoamps at below 0.5v but hope to get a design that can pump out a microamp at 0.5v. Lets assume they perfected their "high-power" design and look at what it does. 0.000000001A is 1 microAmp, multiply that by 0.5v and you get 0.0000000005W or 0.5 microWatts. Having this thing run for 24 hours would give us 12 microwatt-hours which according to google is 0.0103250478 calories. So if it were 1% efficient (I'd be sure its quite a bit higher) it would draw about 1 calorie a day. . .or about 1/4 of a gram of sugar.
          • Just remember that a food calorie is actuall a kilocalorie. Assuming you made that mistake (maybe you didn't), that means you need 1/4000th of a gram of sugar. Excellent weight-loss program indeed! (OTOH, one could imagine a whole fleet of these in your system. It'd still have to be a pretty big fleet for it to matter too much.)
            • Re: (Score:1, Offtopic)

              by DJPenguin (17736)
              I think you might be confusing kilocalories with kilogram-calories :)
            • Re: (Score:2, Offtopic)

              by toQDuj (806112)
              Actually, I think you're confusing the calorie with the Calorie (see the capital C there? see? see? there's a huge difference there).

              Apparently some whizz-PR-kids thought it would be good PR if they lost the Kilo-multiplier in their energy description, so they decided that the Kilo- be replaced with a capital C. Well, all in all, if you're dealing with calories, you know you're in trouble. Check out the Wikipedia page on the Calorie. You'll see there are about a zillion different definitions for the calorie
              • Especially, as the wiki page shows, since the food "C"alorie is also often just called a calorie. Anyways, my point was just that I wasn't sure whether he included the original factor of 1,000 in his calculations, as that can change things by 3 orders of magnitude (or 10 if you're in CS). :)
              • by DarenN (411219)
                It could have been worse, it could have been called the Kalorie!
          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            yeah ... 12 microwatt-hrs per day is about 36 kWh per month per billion people. Compare that to your own monthly electric bill.

            Either the Matrix has much, MUCH more efficient technologies, or here is yet another fine bit of fiction that has slid down the fantasy side of the fork in the road between science fiction and fantasy.

            "Coppertop", indeed. :-(
            • Either the Matrix has much, MUCH more efficient technologies, or here is yet another fine bit of fiction that has slid down the fantasy side of the fork in the road between science fiction and fantasy.

              That was one thing that always bothered e about the matrix--supposedly the machines began harvesting their energy from humans after we blacked out the skies to end their solar power.

              That always seemed like a suicidal (and futile) tactic to me. I mean, it would be trivial to adapt machines to run on electricity drawn from geothermal, nuclear, tidal, or wind power to name a few...but all energy that keeps us humans alive is solar energy harvested via photosynthesis.
              So basically in The Matrix, the humans a

              • by pragma_x (644215)
                I agree, it's not exactly good sci-fi.

                I just like to think that the humans are grossly misinformed due to a fractured understanding of historical events, that the machines blacked-out the skies to corral the humans, and that the matrix is a massive random number generator using human thought as a seed (rather than a power plant) - but that's just me.
            • by HexRei (515117)
              Did they ever explain what biological function was being exploited to harvest that energy? It seems like the human body is full of potential energy. The machines could be using some sort of full-body muscle stimulus to harvest more kinetic energy or something- Neo was in pretty good shape even after supposedly being immobile in a gel-pod his whole life, certainly didn't look atrophied like one might expect.
              Or maybe some sort of chemical interception of nutrients and oxygen headed for cells? Or maybe they've
          • Ugh, fine. . make me RTF :-p Yes I'd call it negligible, they say that their current design can do a few nanoamps at below 0.5v but hope to get a design that can pump out a microamp at 0.5v. Lets assume they perfected their "high-power" design and look at what it does. 0.000000001A is 1 microAmp, multiply that by 0.5v and you get 0.0000000005W or 0.5 microWatts. Having this thing run for 24 hours would give us 12 microwatt-hours which according to google is 0.0103250478 calories. So if it were 1% efficient (I'd be sure its quite a bit higher) it would draw about 1 calorie a day. . .or about 1/4 of a gram of sugar.

            So what you're saying is that after all these years, technology has reached the point where I can finally stand tall and shout...

            ...

            I HAVE THE POWER!

            (Mods:

          • by Khashishi (775369)
            No. A microamp is 0.000001 amps, and a microwatt is 0.000001 watts.
          • Just to clear confusion, 1 microAmp (uA) = 0.000001A. i.e. millionths. Same thing follows for other units.

            0.000000001 = nano-. (billionths)
            If you really can't remember [wikipedia.org].
        • Calories = 1.163 watt-hours

          So, if we assume the 1cm^3 device generates up to 4 Watts, that's 111.648 Calories / day.

          That is significant when compared to the 2000 Calorie recommended by the FDA, but it might not be as siginificant when compared to the trademen, military or athletes whose bodies use much more energy in the course of the day.

          Now, I don't know for sure that they'll actually insert devices this large (if they're working towards 0.5V, this would be 8A) Personally, I'm more worried about how the
          • by ookabooka (731013)
            You misinterpreted the article, they were using the watts per cubic centimeter as a way of expressing energy density, their current design can do a few nanoamps and they hope to get it up to a microamp which after my calculations [slashdot.org] comes out to about 1 calorie a day at worst. Yes the reaction your body has to the device is a much more relevant concern IMO.
            • they were using the watts per cubic centimeter as a way of expressing energy density
              They're pretty dim then, that would be power density (if such a thing exists).
          • 111.648 Calories / day.

            That's equal to a 1/4 cup of Ben and Jerry's. Three bites of ice cream. http://www.benjerry.com/our_products/nutritional_i nfo_all.cfm [benjerry.com]
      • by kestasjk (933987)

        More like it could develop into a new weight loss program. Realistically though, the power that it would end up draining is probably negligible.
        Pfff.. Forget weight loss. Combined with a form of fusion (the red-goo form of fusion), this can give us all the energy we ever need.
    • by dido (9125) <dido&imperium,ph> on Sunday July 22, 2007 @09:56AM (#19945919)

      They're talking microamperes and like 0.5 volts so that makes it about microwatts of power; one microwatt of power over the course of one day is something 0.0864 joules, or 0.021 calories, and those are normal calories, not the food calories (which are really kilocalories). Doesn't look like a whole lot, compared to the energy an average person consumes in a day (2000 kcal, that's two million calories!).

      • by Yvanhoe (564877)
        I prefer the R&D made in order to draw energy from sugar inside the blood. It was largely inefficient (1% of efficiency maybe) and had a cute nickname "Dracucell".These were taking energy from regular sugar coming from food. Given that most people in industrialized countries eat more than necessary, this could prove interesting.

        After all, in winter I get warmth from my electronic devices, it is only a way to pay them back :)
      • by DFDumont (19326)
        The article claims 4W, not micro watts, per cubic centimeter, which is four orders of magnitude more than your calculations.

        I agree with Eddi3, leave my heart alone. I think we should rather focus an nano-fuel cells, say for something like consuming low-density lipoprotiens (LDL). That way both the organism and the device benefit.

        Dennis Dumont
        • by dido (9125)

          4 watts per cubic centimeter is their projected power density. 1 cm^3 is awfully big, about the size of the tip of your pinky. I imagine that the generator they're talking about is a helluvalot smaller than that; a generator of that size hardly deserves the epithet of 'nano', and would probably only fit in major arteries and larger blood vessels. More like cubic millimeters. They're still talking about half a volt and something of the order of micro-amperes of current. Remember some basic electricity:

    • by G4from128k (686170) on Sunday July 22, 2007 @09:57AM (#19945927)
      As much as I love new medical R&D, I think this on is probably a non-starter.

      First, we'll ignore the risk of infection on the assumption that we're implanting a device anyway and its just a matter of what power source we pick for the implant. The most serious general problem would be blood clots that form on surfaces of the device. These pose a sever risk if they break-off, migrate downstream and cause heart attacks, strokes, or blockages in the lungs or extremities. Even drug-eluting stents (which are coated with anti-clotting drugs) have now been found to cause clotting after the drugs dissipate from the coating.

      Then there are the mechanical/hydraulic problems associated with impaired blood flow (the upstream blood pressure will need to be higher that the downstream pressue -- that pressure differential times the flow rate defines the amount of power extracted). If implanted in an artery this device will increase the back pressure on the heart (leading to an enlarged, inefficient heart) and impair circulation on downstream side (increasing problems with infections and function). If implanted in an vein this device will impair circulation on upstream side and probably lead to fluid build-up on the upstream side.

      Cool idea, but I doubt it's compatible with the human body.
      • by E++99 (880734) on Sunday July 22, 2007 @10:34AM (#19946139) Homepage
        According to TFA, this should not be impairing blood flow, regardless of where it is installed. It is not some sort of hydroelectric... er, vitroelectric dam, rather, if I understand correctly, it is powered by harnessing the vibrations of the pulse itself, that are otherwise just absorbed by the vein walls.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by MMC Monster (602931)
        People have artificial devices implanted all the time without worrying about infections and clots. Some of them are even in the circulatory system, such as permanent pacemakers, tissue artificial valves, metal artificial valves (in which you do worry about clots), and vena cava filters.

        Having something in the venous system, like a vena cava filter, may be relatively safe and still produce usable energy. Other places that are not in the circulatory system that might still be used to produce energy may be s
    • by in2mind (988476)
      "Energy can only be transfered from one form to another "

      Going by that,the energy that powers the generators (blood flow)) has to come from somewhere...
      So,It does look like we are merely going to expend our own energy powering this generator.

    • beating a drum like the energizer bunny.
    • by aszaidi (464751)
      My guess is that this energy is too small to put any additional stress on the heart. Even if it did, it is already a very strong muscle and should easily be able to compensate for this amount of extra work by growing just a little bit stronger.
      • My guess is that this energy is too small to put any additional stress on the heart.

        Not if it's scaled up to any practical size - even to power very tiny stuff.

        Pulling energy from the flow or the vibrations in it raises the backpressure. The pressure has to rise or the pressure in the veins downstream collapse in the lower-pressure part of the cycle, which causes all sorts of havoc, such as floating blood clots that produce strokes and heart attacks.

        Pulling energy from the flexing of the vessels due to the
    • by jdh41 (865085)
      Excellent, we finally have a way for geeks to burn off all that fat without having to emerge from their mother's basements.
    • Yeah, but Chief Scientist Hannibal Flecter claims that they can overcome this obstacle by supplementing the subjects' diets with something called Soylent Green.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by E++99 (880734)

      In the end, this isn't just harvesting unused energy; There's no such thing. It has to come from somewhere. In this case, doesn't it come from the energy the heart is exerting to pump blood? Is it possible that this could have some long term side effects, due to slightly more stress on the heart?

      Since it's powered by the vibrations from the pulse, the energy used would presumably otherwise by converted to heat by the mechanical dampening of the pulse by the vein walls. Since this is not a way that the body

    • Is it possible that this could have some long term side effects, due to slightly more stress on the heart?

      Would turning the crank on a generator terrify you? That's another way of harvesting energy from your body that places more stress on your heart.

    • I can't think of a better use for my excess calories. The fatter I am, the more personal devices I can power. If that's not enough, I can drink more beer. Isn't science wonderful
    • by timeOday (582209)

      In the end, this isn't just harvesting unused energy; There's no such thing.
      'cause heaven knows too many Americans are on the brink of starvation.

      I honestly think you could make good money on an implant that does nothing but burn calories.

    • by GunFodder (208805)
      Depends on the machine. My new laser hand might draw considerably more power.
    • by mapkinase (958129)

      slightly more stress on the heart
      It will be like using "cardio" regime on your treadmill. Or living in high altitude (supposedly longer life).
  • by dfetter (2035) <david@fetter.org> on Sunday July 22, 2007 @09:26AM (#19945729) Homepage Journal
    coppertop ;)
  • Great! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by jsse (254124) on Sunday July 22, 2007 @09:27AM (#19945737) Homepage Journal
    That's one step toward the Matrix, thanks a bunch!

    Tell me where you're so that I could spot you and eliminate you in order to divert myself away from the inevitable future.
    • by thenymph (984077)
      Yeah, and the Borg wrapped into one. Naturally, we will want to accessorize with lasers and shit.
  • HemoElectric Dams (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Finally a way to power animated tattoos!
  • We've been harvesting human energy for electronic use for years: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Watch [wikipedia.org]Kinetic Watch
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      Not exactly. Kinetic = motion. If you'll read the Wikipedia entry you linked to, it explains it quite simply. You could put a kinetic watch on a frequently-used doorknob and it would work just as well.
    • by countach (534280)
      Kinetic? Give me a break. The first watch to harvest human power was developed by Breguet in 1780.
    • by Animats (122034)

      The "self winding digital watch" people have run into the problem that that status-symbol types don't think it's a status symbol, and with the rotating counterweight, the things are both big and expensive to manufacture.

      Solar powered watches are more useful. I have a $50 model from Casio, which is both solar powered and updates itself from WWVB, so it pretty much maintains itself.

      Self-winding mechanical watches often need a powered winder, [ewatchbox.com] a device to rotate them when not in use. Then you have to cha

  • Hm, no mention of my idea to solve the obesity problem AND energy problem by streamlining the liposuction process so people can regularly have their body fat sucked out and used as energy...
    • I wonder if the adipose tissue would be a good source of biodiesel? Would that mean that tubby folks like myself would be contributing more to a green world than skinny vegan tree huggers?
      • by Eddi3 (1046882)
        Not really. The conversion of Food > Sugar > Fat, etc. in the body is very inefficient. It would be much more efficient to just get it from the source in the first place.
        • by aliquis (678370)
          That where going to be my argument, but then the rest of energy consumed into his body wasn't wasted of course, it was just used for other things than stored as fat, so no, that argument is sort of wrong. Well, atleast if you consider his life worth anything and that he should have had something to eat at all no matter what.

          The body doesn't waste much sugar or fats at all as in doesn't pick it up.
      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by aliquis (678370)
        No, you will still be fat ugly unwanted pieces of humanity.
      • What Eddi3 said. Lipo can only salvage energy that would otherwise be wasted. But getting fat *for the purpose* of providing energy would be less efficient than applying the energy from whatever made the food, directly into the economy. It would almost be like Homer's plan to get rich by selling grease from the fatty foods he eats ;-)
  • Thank you! (Score:1, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward
    I always wanted to be part of a electric circuit but the sockets I tried didn't feel the same way.

    I'll finally have a relationship with someone. I just hope my dearest won't squeeze the life out of me.
  • by TomatoMan (93630) on Sunday July 22, 2007 @09:55AM (#19945913) Homepage Journal
    ...I can burn off the love handles by hooking them up Super Mario on my DS.

    Where do I sign?
  • by antifoidulus (807088) on Sunday July 22, 2007 @09:57AM (#19945925) Homepage Journal
    think about, you have a portable video player loaded up with some porn. The user starts watching, the heart starts pumping faster allowing for more porn to be viewed. Repeat ad naseum(or until the user needs a towel)
    • Repetition is the killer. You see, the batteries only hold a charge for so long and can only be recharged a limited number of times in a day. Of course Slashdotters probably have enough pent up energy that you could feed back into the grid.
  • To power anything of consequence you would need quite a few of these in your blood stream. Also to deliver energy to a specific device, all of these machines would have to be clustered together. Now my question is whether or not these would be a health risk. Our arteries and veins are not very big, and having a lot of nano machines in one place could cause a coronary or a heart attack. In the U.S. people already are having way to many problems with plaque buildup preventing proper blood flow. What woul
  • Desperate? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by ynososiduts (1064782)
    Are people that desperate to have their smartphone on at all times that they need to harvest the energy their heart generates to power it? Maybe that's a little drastic, but they mentioned personal electronics. Do people really need to have their devices charged by blood flow? I understand pacemakers or things of that nature because they keep you alive. If it isn't necessary, why POWER it with YOUR HEART? The fact that people even thought that is a little appalling.
    • Actually, if you could create one of these that can power a pacemaker, that would be a world-changing event. The number of pacemaker and defibrillator changes would dramatically decrease. At ~$40,000 a pop for a defibrillator and ~$5000 for a pacemaker, egging out an extra year or so by using a battery that can be recharged by the person would be an incredible savings overall.
    • Are people that desperate to have their smartphone on at all times that they need to harvest the energy their heart generates to power it? Maybe that's a little drastic, but they mentioned personal electronics. Do people really need to have their devices charged by blood flow? I understand pacemakers or things of that nature because they keep you alive. If it isn't necessary, why POWER it with YOUR HEART? The fact that people even thought that is a little appalling.

      I think for many people, yes they are that
  • The article may just be a fart, but I'll just gas up anyways..
    • by booch (4157) *
      I think the parent poster is on to something. I can guarantee you that I have plenty of energy available in the gases escaping from my body. Reducing that energy would not be a problem -- for me, or for those around me.
  • the additional energy taken from and stress placed on your heart only reduces your lifespan by an average 5 years!
  • Skin Contact (Score:4, Insightful)

    by notanatheist (581086) on Sunday July 22, 2007 @10:30AM (#19946113) Homepage
    Surely this can be done from outside the body. A couple pods taped to the right places and wired to a charger of some sort should be adequate. I used to have issues with my bicycle computer (cyclometer) when I kept in in my pocket. Typically the material in the pocket isn't that thick and the contact points on the bottom of the unit would be close to my leg. Occasionally I'd pull it out and it'd be giving me erratic reading like I was going 70mph though I wasn't on my bike. Since then I no longer keep the cyclometer in my pocket so as not to skew my averages when I'm tracking my rides.
  • by LM741N (258038) on Sunday July 22, 2007 @10:33AM (#19946133)
    Sex tends to burn out the electronics.
  • Now there is a Blue Pill and a Red Pill.
  • This could kill the joke that features the punchline: "No Doc I don't want you to remove it, I just want you to change the batteries."
  • No thanks (Score:3, Insightful)

    by nsayer (86181) * <[moc.ufk] [ta] [reyasn]> on Sunday July 22, 2007 @11:14AM (#19946413) Homepage
    In the past, the idea of harvesting energy from living tissue has centered on chemical reactions - attempting to use the glucose in the bloodstream or what not. That's fine (so long as it can be done safely), because the systems that regulate glucose availability probably have the overhead capacity to spare (at least by comparison). But when you talk about tapping the bloodstream's KE, I start to get nervous, because then you're talking about the heart. That's where the energy you're tapping is going to come from. When your heart wears out, you're more or less done. I'm already doing enough bad things to my heart (vis diet and exercise) - I don't want to make it work any harder.

    • by TeknoHog (164938)

      When your heart wears out, you're more or less done. I'm already doing enough bad things to my heart (vis diet and exercise) - I don't want to make it work any harder.

      A little extra exercise hardly hurts. Or do you think top athletes die young due to their heart wearing out?

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by SkyFalling (1115231)
      If you're not getting enough exercise, making your heart work harder is *exactly* what you should be doing. The heart is a muscle, and it gets stronger the more you use it. Consider making an analogous statement about skeletal muscles such as those in your arms, and see how ridiculous it sounds.
  • by mrcvp (1130257)
    the matrix anybody? nano technology alwas disturbs me.
    • by david614 (10051)
      I was wondering when I was going to see the first Matrix reference -- sure, with a few billion bodies to spare this might be an interesting power source -- to some rogue AI....
  • All my energy went into my new Gentoo install last night, I'm spent.
  • Heart implants (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Edgester (105351)
    To bad this won't power heart implants or artificial hearts.
  • by iminplaya (723125)
    Just capture all the methane coming out of the exhaust pipe.
  • You've read about it here first. With my copyright (refer to bottom of the page). Someday, you will all want an inductive girdle implanted around your waist paired with an inductive gadget belt where you can hang all your electronic doodads. They can stay charged all day long while you gab continuously or listen to music on your choclear implants, while chatting with your electroni molars. That mental picture I've just drawn? We will call it prior art, and now I'll just sit back and wait for the money.
  • Hackaday's newest I-pod hacks:

    DIY: USB adapter you can hook up to your spinal cord to charge up your I-pod!
  • What if my heart stops! No circulation and then no power for my bionic fingers to dial 911 on my wrist watch.
  • if this works perfectly, they will have created a way for machines to use humans as food.

    sure, on a tiny scale, the tiny fractions of a watt seem insignificant - but the energy is not free, it slows your bloodstream a tiny amount.

    when a nanoscale does it's typical ramping up to larger swarms to do a collective job, it can and will eventually add up.

    just add self-replication and we have a potentially awesome sci-fi horror flick without the fi.
  • That's right. Somebody thought of this before The Matrix was made. I would not be surprised at all if it was thought up several times over before Stephen King wrote a book related to this....
  • Harnessing mechanical energy is fine, but the real breakthrough is going to happen when a "filter" system can be placed inline with major arteries... which actually pulls chemicals out of the blood and uses them to power a fuel cell/charge a battery/whatever. Imagine burning 1000 calories an hour just by cranking the knob up. Weight loss with the added benefit of producing power usfeul for mobile devices.

    You may not need the system to be wired up in series... which could cause some problems if it fails or

  • I'm gonna pass on this one. TYVM. I've seen too many batteries overloaded for comfort.

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