Researchers Look To Body Heat As Power Source

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelance and long standing contributor to TechWeek Europe

Researchers have developed a device that “harvests” the waste heat from human bodies and converts it into usable power for wearable sensors

Researchers in Belgium are touting an energy harvesting device that uses heat from human bodies in order to power ultra low power devices, such as a wristband blood oxygen sensor.

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Vladimir Leonov and Ruud Vullers of the Interuniversity Microelectronics Centre have apparently developed a fairly clunky head band in order to “harvest” wasted heat. Pictures of the device can be found here.

According to the researchers, the handband is so effective in converting excess heat into usable power for low powered devices, that it can get uncomfortably chilly to wear.

They say that the human body produces the same amount of heat, as the heat dissipated by a few laptops. Indeed, several tens of watts out of the produced heat are dissipated as a heat flows from the skin, depending on ambient conditions (the temperature, humidity, and wind).

Of course, the human body has sophisticated mechanisms to make sure excess heat escapes, in order to ensure that our core temperature remains stable. However Leonov and Vullers’ idea centres around capturing that energy (or heat) that your body throws away. They can do this using something called thermopiles, which can convert the temperature difference between your skin and the surrounding environment, into electricity.

At the moment, this technology is still a long way off from commercial applications, but it has been proven to power a medical sensor. Whether they can make it power your iPod or mobile phone, remains to be seen.

The waste heat harvesting idea is yet another out-of-the-box idea from research scientists.

Earlier this month British scientists said that within the next five years, mobile phones could be powered by kinetic energy harvested from vibrations in the environment. This discipline is known as ‘energy harvesting‘, and has been around now for at least ten years, with some commercial devices already existing in specialised areas. For example, some industrial pumps already use vibrations in order to power the sensors that monitors the pumps’ condition.