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Human Energy to Charge Hungry Devices

Worried about having enough energy to last the whole day? No, not caffeine-boosted mental and physical energy, electrical energy to power your smart phone and other connected devices. Researchers are developing new ways to harness people’s body heat and movement for useful applications.

David Carroll, head of Wake Forest University’s Center for Nanotechnology and Molecular Materials was constantly struggling to maintain a charged cell phone. Inspired by his talkative wife and daughter, he endeavored to create a way to turn his body heat into usable energy to keep his smart phone powered throughout the day. He finally succeeded with the creation of Power Felt, which contains carbon nanotubes embedded in a woven mat of plastic fibers. The new material has uses beyond keeping mobile devices ready and able; Carroll sees it being used in roofs to help power homes, in cars to help run the A/C, and even in clothing to power sensors that would allow doctors to remotely track a patient’s health.

Another ground-breaking energy-generating technique has been developed by scientists at the University of California, Berkeley. There they have engineered benign viruses to gather energy from mechanical forces, such as the press of a finger. The engineered virus normally infects bacteria and self-arranges into thin sheets that display piezoelectricity – the fancy term for electricity resulting from pressure. More research is needed but paper-thin sheets could theoretically be put in the soles of shoes or embedded in stairs and doorways to help supply ever-growing energy needs.

With concerns about nuclear and fossil fuel power generation flying around these days, innovative minds are turning to new sources to help alleviate reliance on unsustainable electricity. Turning the energy humans emit into usable power may be a small step, but it is one clearly pointed in the right direction. Cleantech companies looking to get the word out about their own innovative products and services should look to partner with experienced agencies active in the space to ensure their energy is not wasted and sustainable as well.

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