Generating Electricity from Human Movement to Power Smart Gadgets

#Science

Mon, Jul 20th, 2015 11:00 by capnasty NEWS

While specific body parts produce minuscule amounts of electricity, such as the cochlea, which can potentially be harvested, the amount is insufficient for powering a smartwatch or a smartphone; researchers, however, have been focusing on recycling human movement or the heat generated by the body, producing enough power to charge "a lithium-ion battery in a matter of hours."

In the past few years, researchers have started to exploit a unique property of some materials, known as piezoelectricity, to generate electricity from human movement. Piezoelectric materials spontaneously generate electric charge when exposed to stress (the Greek word piezo means to squeeze or press). These materials are already used in countless industrial applications, and even the humble cigarette lighter (that “click” you hear in the electronic kind is the sound of a piezoelectric crystal being struck). But their next use could be in energy-generating fabrics.

One of the most advanced of these was developed in 2013 by a Chinese-US research team that invented an elastomer-based piezoelectric fabric able to generate electricity using only the kinetic energy of human locomotion. When a piece of this fabric was worn as a shoe insole by a volunteer, walking generated enough electricity to illuminate 30 LEDs. What’s more, when the same fabric was applied onto a shirt that was then artificially moved, it charged a lithium-ion battery in a matter of hours.

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