Doctors need dependable technology to power devices implanted in patients to regulate or monitor the patient's health. Examples of such devices are pacemakers and continuous glucose monitoring systems. Implant devices come with an inherent challenge: They can wear out over time or require replacement batteries or a cumbersome external power source.
By using nanogenerators, doctors could implant a new generation of these devices with the capacity to stay powered and last a long time with minimal body invasion [source: Medgadget]. Such devices would harness the energy of involuntary movement like a heartbeat or lung expansion. In short, you could be using your body to keep alive a device that helps keep you alive in return. In addition, by using non-toxic materials like ZnO as the piezoelectric material, there is a better chance of implanting a nanogenerator without harming the body [source: Greenemeier].
So what's beyond medicine for nanogenerators? Researchers believe that nanogenerators could soon be powering your iPod or smartphone. Because nanogenerators are so small, they could easily be embedded in the cloth of a T-shirt or hoodie, so your iPod could use your pulse to keep its internal battery charged. Wang expects the nanogenerators his group has developed to be part of such products and available for purchase within five years [source: FoxNews].
A side benefit of using nanogenerators is their potential positive impact on the environment. Nanogenerators use a renewable resource: kinetic energy from body movement. They're created from more environmentally friendly materials than batteries, and they have the potential to reduce the waste associated with battery production and disposal. Still, the impact is small, literally, due to the size and limited power of nanogenerators. Time will tell if the nanogenerators will be viable in powering larger devices such as laptops.
Nanogenerators probably won't replace batteries, at least not in the near future. You still need battery backups for devices with which you're not in regular physical contact, such as alarm clocks. You also want to ensure that some devices continue to run idly even when you're not using or touching them, such as your smartphone. Perhaps in the future, manufacturers will pair nanogenerators with some type of rechargeable battery system to create a dependable power source with reduced environmental impact.
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