New nanotechnology converts heat into power28th February 2012
An exciting new technology called Power Felt, a thermoelectric device that converts body heat into an electrical current, has been developed by researchers in the US.
It is thought the technology could overcome the issue of drained mobile phone batteries by creating a charge when handsets are touched.
Developed by researchers at the Center for Nanotechnology and Molecular Materials at Wake Forest University, Power Felt is comprised of tiny carbon nanotubes locked up in flexible plastic fibres and made to feel like fabric. The technology uses temperature differences - room temperature versus body temperature, for instance - to produce a charge.
Corey Hewitt, a Researcher and Wake Forest graduate student, said:
"We waste a lot of energy in the form of heat. For example, recapturing a car's energy waste could help improve fuel mileage and power the radio, air conditioning or navigation system. Generally thermoelectrics are an underdeveloped technology for harvesting energy, yet there is so much opportunity."
Potential uses for Power Felt include lining automobile seats to boost battery power and service electrical needs, insulating pipes or collecting heat under roof tiles to lower gas or electric bills, or lining clothing or sports equipment to monitor performance.
Cost has so far prevented thermoelectrics from being used more widely in consumer products. Standard thermoelectric devices use a much more efficient compound called bismuth telluride to turn heat into power in products including mobile refrigerators and CPU coolers, but researchers say it can cost $1,000 per kilogram. Like silicon, they liken Power Felt's affordability to demand in volume and think someday it could cost only $1 to add to a cell phone cover.
The research has been published in the current issue of Nano Letters, a leading journal in nanotechnology.