Researchers net €1m in EU funding to pioneer MANpower energy-harvesting device

18 Sep 2013

Dr Nathan Jackson, principal investigator and member of the MANpower project at Tyndall National Institute, which has secured €1m in EU research funding

A research project into futuristic implantable devices that could convert human heart vibrations into electrical energy, and potentially store it, has been awarded €1m in funding from the European Union (EU). The project is known as MANpower and it is all about pioneering the future of energy harvesting and storage using a fusion of nanotechnology, ICT, health-tech and industry expertise.

A team of nanotechnologists, ICT experts and scientists at Tyndall National Institute in Cork, Ireland, have been working with the Irish division of Analog Devices, to pioneer the device.

The EU funding news was revealed earlier today during a seminar on ‘Emerging Devices and Technologies’, which is part of a series of Industry Days being hosted this week in Cork by Tyndall.

In a heartbeat

The MANpower project has been built upon research conducted at Tyndall’s Collaborative Centre for Applied Nanotechnology (CCAN), in conjunction with Analog Devices in Limerick. Enterprise Ireland funded the research.

The academic-industry group behind MANpower say the device will home in on the development of perpetually self-powered, electronic systems that can be implanted into the human body.

And the €1m in funding is set to help ramp up their research vision, Tyndall confirmed today.

They are now set to inject the funding into further research in order to develop the energy harvesting and storage capacity powered by low-frequency sources (less than 30Hz), such as a human heartbeat.

Dr Alan Mathewson, principal investigator at Tyndall, who is heading up the MANpower project, explained the research.

Zeroing in on the human heart, he said that every time a human heart beats, it creates vibrations at a low frequency: about 1-30Hz.

“The devices we are developing convert the vibrations from the heart into usable electrical energy, which can be used to power implantable devices, such as a pacemaker,” he said.

The ability to capture and store energy at such low frequencies has proved largely elusive to humankind up to now.

Human power: fusing nanotech with ICT

Apparently this is due to the stiffness of conventional silicon and similar materials traditionally used in energy-harvesting devices, which Mathewson said are “simply not conducive to low-frequency environments”.

“With MANpower, we are designing a miniaturised device that will eliminate the need for large-scale batteries to power a pacemaker, by converting human heartbeat vibrations into electrical energy.”

In turn, such energy will then have the scope to power implantable devices.

“In a world where so much time and effort is focused on being bigger, faster and louder, this project is about being smaller, slower and quieter,” said Mathewson.

Dr Nathan Jackson, also a principal investigator at Tyndall, said being able to successfully harvest energy at such a low frequency range has large commercial scope, as well as the potential to exploit the device for other uses in industry.

Carmel Doyle was a long-time reporter with Silicon Republic