Imagine being able to use your mobile phone without ever having to charge it at a wall outlet. This may just be the future considering that researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Integrated Circuits in Germany have put thermoelectric generators to the task of harnessing natural body heat to generate electricity and power electronic systems.
Thermoelectric generators are basically semiconductors capable of producing a small amount of electrical energy from temperature differences – such as the surface temperature of your skin and the temperature of your surroundings.
But charging something like a cell phone using body heat would have been nigh impossible with this system since small electronics require a minimum of 2V at least in order to operate. The system in question can generate only about 250 millivolts.
The researchers at Fraunhofer Institute have solved the issue by introducing certain components to the thermoelectric generators. These store the millivolts of power produced until the amount is high enough to be released to an electronic device for use.
“The idea behind it is that you can replace the batteries or at least you can enlarge the operation times of batteries,” according to Dr Peter Spies, Electrical Engineer and Group Manager, Fraunhofer Institute for Integrated Circuits in Germany.
This technology would be useful not just for juicing up mobile phones or watches. It could also power small medical devices or sensors attached to a patient’s body such as hearing aids, pulse rate checkers and much more.
What’s more, apart from body heat, any kind of waste heat such as those from refrigerators or radiators can be recycled instead letting it escape into the atmosphere.