Solar energy has long been championed by environmentalists as a renewable source of power for homes or businesses. But now Swiss researchers say the sun could power something much closer to our hearts: pacemakers.
A team of Swiss researchers calculated that a 3.6-square-centimeter solar cell generates enough energy to power devices such as pacemakers and deep brain stimulators. The lead author of the study, Lukas Bereuter of Bern University Hospital and the University of Bern in Switzerland, hopes that wearing a solar patch beneath the skin could one day save patients from having to undergo periodic surgeries to replace batteries, procedures that are costly and carry the risk of medical complications.
Since the size of electronic medical implants is dictated by the battery volume needed for an extended lifespan, solar-powered devices also have the potential to be a lot smaller than their battery-powered predecessors.
To test the feasibility of this idea, Bereuter and his colleagues created 10 solar measurement devices to track the output power being generated. The cells were 3.6 square centimeters in size and covered with optical filters to simulate how properties of the skin would influence how sunlight would filter through the skin. Worn on the arms of 32 volunteers in Switzerland for one week during summer, autumn and winter the tiny cells were consistently found to generate far above the 5 to 10 microwatts of power that most cardiac pacemakers require. The participant with the lowest power output still generated 12 microwatts on average.
Bereuter believes that the results of this study could be scaled up and applied to a myriad of other mobile, solar-powered devices for humans.