Someday, breathing through the nose could power hearing aids, pacemakers or blood glucose monitors, thanks to a discovery by a UW-Madison team.
Materials science and engineering assistant professor Xudong Wang, post-doctoral researcher Chengliang Sun and graduate student Jian Shi created a tiny device that generates electricity when passed over by low-speed airflow, such as that created by respiration (breathing).
The team reported its findings in the September issue of the journal Energy and Environmental Science.
The researchers engineered polyvinylidene fluoride (PVDF), a material that can produce a charge in response to mechanical stress, such as airflow, into a plastic microbelt that vibrates when struck by nose breath.
It's known as the piezoelectric effect, the same way you can ignite a gas barbeque grill with the touch of a button.
"Basically, we are harvesting mechanical energy from biological systems," Wang said in a news release from the UW-Madison news service.
"The airflow of normal human respiration is typically below two meters per second," Wang said. "We calculated if we could make this material (PVDF) thin enough, small vibrations could produce a microwatt of electrical energy that could be useful for sensor or other devices implanted in the face."
Nose power could be used for a variety of biomedical devices, such as monitoring blood glucose for diabetics, or keeping a pacemaker battery charged so it wouldn't need replacing.
Because PDVF is biocompatible, Wang said the development represents a significant advance toward creating a practical micro-scale device for harvesting energy from respiration.