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Piezoelectric cantilever generates power for heart implant

Technology News |
By Nick Flaherty


A team at the Thayer School of Engineering at Dartmouth College worked with UT Health San Antonio (part of the University of Texas) to developed a new way to build a piezoelectric harvesting transducer for these medical implants.

Their approach uses a combination of thin-film energy-conversion materials with a minimally invasive mechanical design. The work and results are detailed in their paper “Flexible Porous Piezoelectric Cantilever on a Pacemaker Lead for Compact Energy Harvesting” published in Advanced Materials Technologies.

Providing implanted power is a formidable challenge, says Dartmouth engineering professor John X.J. Zhang, “How do you create an effective energy source so the device will do its job during the entire life span of the patient, without the need for surgery to replace the battery?” Research associate Lin Dong added, “Of equal importance is that the device not interfere with the body’s function. We knew it had to be biocompatible, lightweight, flexible, and low profile, which also makes it not only fit into the current pacemaker structure, but also scalable for future multifunctionality.”


Fig. 1: Shown is the concept of piezoelectric
thin-film energy harvester for an implantable
cardioverter defibrillator and a flexible porous
PVDF-TrFE dual-cantilever energy harvester
on the AICD lead (A). Image from video analysis
of a chronically implanted pacemaker lead from
a dog (B). A dual-cantilever energy harvester within
a soft tube on the pacemaker AICD lead (C).
(Source: Thayer School of Engineering at
Dartmouth College).

To build the harvester transducer, the researchers used a combination of thin-film energy-conversion materials with a minimally invasive mechanical approach in a modified pacemaker design. They harnessed the kinetic energy of the lead wire that’s attached to a beating heart, and then converted it into electricity to continually charge the batteries – see figure 1. The power-generating material, a specialized polymer piezoelectric film called polyvinylidene fluoride-trifluoroethylene (PVDF-TrFE), is designed with porous structures and then built into either an array of small beams or a flexible cantilever.

The team created a dual-cantilever peizoelectric structure that wraps around the pacemaker’s lead, with the structure’s two free ends available for connection and subsequent energy collection – see figure 2.

Fig. 2: Illustrated are a schematic of the porous
piezoelectric-energy harvester (A); flexible porous
PVDF-TrFE thin film (B); and scanning electron microscope
image of the cross-section of the thin film (C). (Source:
Thayer School of Engineering at Dartmouth College).

The maximum output was 0.5V at 43nA at 1Hz, a little over 20nW. By adding a small proof mass of 31.6 mg on the tip of the dual-cantilever tip, the power output increased by a little over 80% since the added mass enabled a larger bending curvature, resulting in higher electrical output from the harvester.


For comparison, today’s ultra-low-power implantable biomedical devices require 0.3μW for cardiac-activity sensing, 10 to 100 μW for pacemakers, 100 to 2000 μW for cochlear implants, and 1 to 10 mW for neural recording. An advantage of this design is that it’s scalable: two (or more) units can be connected in parallel for a corresponding increase in power output. Initial testing is done using a mechanical shaker, of course, to simulate the motion of the myocardium and the corresponding deformation of a pacemaker lead – see figure 3.

Fig. 3: This test setup is based on reported anatomical values of an average adult’s
cardiovascular system; a 21-cm long soft tube was used to represent the superior vena
cava (SVC) (A). The shaker-based test platform simulates the motion of myocardium (B).
(Source: Thayer School of Engineering at Dartmouth College).

This article was first published in Electronic Designwww.electronicdesign.com

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