Remember ‘The Matrix’? A system controlled by machines that use human bodies as giant energy producing batteries. The concept might seem spooky to some and difficult to accept for others, but when plugged in using the right technology, human body indeed has the ability to generate considerably huge amounts of power; power that is currently going waste. This is no science fiction from Hollywood. This is not hypothetical technology that is still centuries away. It is real and it is already taking shape. Every breath that you take, move that you make, every single time your heart beats and blood gushes through your veins, every single one of those is an energy producing opportunity for modern science.
Do not freak out though as we are not turning you into giant batteries. In a world plagued by energy generation issues and limited fossil fuel sources that will run out sooner than later, smart energy creation is essential. And here are some breakthroughs that lead us on a path where one day we can charge up our ‘gizmos and gadgets’ all by ourselves…
You must have heard of the fuel cell before. But this one is nothing like the conventional fuel cell that uses oxygen and hydrogen to produce water and energy. A research team led by Dr Serge Cosnier at Joseph Fourier University of Grenoble has synthesized a device that can convert glucose and oxygen present in the blood stream of the human body into useful energy that can run gadgets without a glitch. Dubbed as ‘Biofuel Cell’ these units rip electrons out of glucose and dump them back into oxygen molecules. What this does is create a flow of charge, which essential is an ‘electric current’.
Now, you might be wondering why you would donate blood to just get some charge. You are thinking wrong. The technology is of incredible value in implants and artificial organs (such as pacemaker), which now need not have batteries stuffed on the inside. Since your blood powers them, there will be no necessity of multiple operations after several years just to change batteries! This is a life-saving, energy generating breakthrough that could be available for medical procedures in the next decade or two.
A team led by Xudong Wang has created a special piezoelectric device that will turn something as basic as the process of respiration into an energy generating avenue. Again, this might be staggeringly huge in terms of sheer output, but one thing you can guarantee is consistency of power generation. Using a plastic microbelt that is made out of polyvinylidene fluoride (PVDF) the team has crafted a device that will use the piezoelectric property of PVDF to turn flow of air into tiny amount of energy.
Piezoelectricity is the phenomenon in which application of mechanical force generates current in certain materials and vice versa. The makers of the device used a specially crafted ion-etching process on the PVDF surface to make it more efficient. In time devices made on the technology can be used for face implants.
While piezoelectricity is gaining repute as a great source of energy production from the functioning of the human body, thermoelectricity is not far behind. In fact, it is a concept far simpler to work with and perfect. Thermoelectric current is produced when the ends of the material experience significant temperature difference. But scientists at the Fraunhofer Institute are working hard in trying to generate current despite minute temperature differences. This allows you to just hook up a wire to your body and its heat will automatically produce current.
The generated current will be enough to charge up your smartphones and iPods completely. The race is on to find the most efficient thermoelectric material around.
This is one aspect of harvesting energy from humans that is simple, easy to put into practice and the technology required is already out there in the market and being used by some innovative designers. Green Microgym in Portland is a wonderful example of how energy that is constantly wasted can be put to good use. The gym turned the workout equipment like stationary bikes into energy generating sources by adding a simple generator. Surely, more machines in the gym can go the same way.
What is more interesting is the concept of ‘piezoelectric tiles’ which are now being used by select pubs and nightclubs across the globe. They produce amazing amounts of power as people stamp away with glee on the dance floor. It is a win-win situation all the way. In fact, using such tiles, you can pretty much turn every kindergarten playground into a charging station! There are endless avenues here waiting to be tapped into…
Scientists from Georgia have come up with a remarkable invention that could change the way we'll charge things in the decades to come. The team has synthesized special piezoelectric wires that they call ‘nanogenerators’. These ultra-thin wires are made up of zinc-oxide, which is being used more and more as a piezoelectric material off late. The wires when subject to movement or small vibrations are capable of producing charge that will help power up your fancy gizmos. Since the wires are so thin that about 500 of them would form a wire comparable to solitary human hair, they can be implanted and used almost anywhere, even sense the heartbeats to convert them into power.
Do we know some gals who would simply love to have technology like this and if it did make it into market; they would never have to plug in their mobiles again for charge… ever! They could probably generate extra charge and even sell it for profits. Anyway, Sang-Woo Kim, of Sungkyunkwan University in Seoul has come up with a device that uses the zinc oxide wires that we talked about earlier to generate electricity in a whole new fashion. According to Kim, this new device would convert your sound waves into electric charge thanks to the vibrating ZnO wires.
This way every time you talk into your phone or sing along with your iPod, you will juice up the gadgest as well. While the idea is great and we would obviously love to have such chargers, it could get real annoying, real fast in some cases. Especially the whole ‘sing along with your iPod’ deal.
Unlike hooking stuff up with your heart, which no matter how safe, just sounds a bit scary to some of us (Maybe we are just not cut out for the future) we figured that putting the Zinc Oxide wires in the blood stream was a lot more convenient and safer. When we say ‘put in’, do not formulate an image that they will be floating about. But nanogenerators can be far more effective when they tap into the pressure and movement of flowing blood and if technology evolves to point where it can merge piezoelectricity with another thermoelectric material, then the temperature difference will be ideal to generate more charge.
But do not worry too much already about being turned into hooked up batteries hanging in pods that power the robots. This is not the Matrix just yet…