Fish scales-powered pacemaker? Scientists transform biowaste into energy harvester

© Desmond Boylan
Researchers in India have converted fish scales into an energy harvester for self-powered electronics in a remarkable breakthrough that they hope will one day be used to power pacemakers.

Noting that large quantities of fish are consumed in the country, the team at Jadavpur University in Kolkata decided to look at recycling fish byproducts into an energy harvester.

Fish scales contain collagen fibers that possess a piezoelectric property, meaning an electric charge is generated when a mechanical stress is applied.

The study published in Applied Physics Letters reveals how the team created a  bio-piezoelectric nanogenerator by first collecting fish scales from a fish market, then attaching electrodes and completing the process with lamination.

“We were able to make a bio-piezoelectric nanogenerator – aka energy harvester – with electrodes on both sides, and then laminated it,” Dipankar Mandal, assistant professor at the Organic Nano-Piezoelectric Device Laboratory  of Jadavpur University’s Department of Physics, said in a statement.

Fabrication of flexible BPNG from bio-waste FSC. © scitation.aip.org

Mandal believes their work will greatly impact the field of self-powered flexible electronics.

“To date, despite several extraordinary efforts, no one else has been able to make a biodegradable energy harvester in a cost-effective, single-step process.”

The team is now looking toward future applications of their energy harvester.

“In the future, our goal is to implant a bio-piezoelectric nanogenerator into a heart for pacemaker devices, where it will continuously generate power from heartbeats for the device's operation,” Mandal said.

“Then it will degrade when no longer needed. Since heart tissue is also composed of collagen, our bio-piezoelectric nanogenerator is expected to be very compatible with the heart.”

The fish-scales powered device could also be used in targeted drug delivery and the stimulation of different types of damaged tissues, scientists believe.

The end goal is to create ingestible electronics made from non-toxic materials that can be applied in a broad range of diagnostic and therapeutic scenarios.