It turns out having a hot body could help save our global energy crisis, as researchers discover how to turn human body heat into electricity.
Eight years ago, Professor Jun Chen and his team at the the University of Wollongong began working to create renewable energy from the unused heat in pipelines for the oil industry. The research led them to explore how other forms of heat could be converted into power, and they ended up focusing on the warmth omitted by the human body.
The team discovered that the difference in temperature between our body and its surroundings can produce electricity. To harness the energy, a wearable device fitted with electrodes transforms the difference in temperature into an electrical current.
The initial devices that Chen experimented with were too rigid and uncomfortable to wear, so the team partnered with textile designers to embed the electrodes within fabric. Now, using only a small portion of the body’s heat, one of Chen’s wristbands or shirts could generate enough electricity to power a Nintendo Wii, medical device, mobile phone or laptop.
The technology is at least five years away from going to market, but Chen hopes it will attract industry partners, such as those working in fitness.
“When we do activities our body temperature is going up – you are generating energy you can harvest,” Chen said during his presentation at the 2017 Big Ideas Festival. “Also, while you are doing fitness, people can monitor your personal healthcare parameters. Especially in the sport's activities, this has a big potential market for us.”
Chen also explained that as the people create more heat when they are happy, with the average body temperature rising by four degrees, one day good moods might be considered a source of power.