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Body Heat Power  (Source: Image via Fraunhofer)
Future electronic devices could be powered by body heat alone

For mobile professionals, poor battery life from a device is the ultimate enemy to staying connected on the go. Everyone wants longer battery life from phones, laptops and cameras.

Researchers from the Fraunhofer Institute for Integrated Circuits IIS in Erlangen have teamed up with scientists from the Fraunhofer Institute for Physical Measurement Techniques IPM and the Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Engineering and Applied Materials Research IFAM to devise a way to power electronic circuits by using body heat.

The researchers were able to construct a method of turning body heat into electricity using the same principal as thermoelectric generators (TEG) made from semi-conductor elements. TEGs extract electricity from the temperature difference between a hot and cold environment.

Researchers from Fraunhofer say that typically a temperature difference of several tens of degrees is needed, but that the temperature difference between the body and the environment is only a few degrees.

That means that with such a small temperature difference, the amount of electricity generated is very low voltage. The TEG can deliver 200 millivolts when most electronics require one or two volts to operate.

“We combined a number of components in a completely new way to create circuits that can operate on 200 millivolts,” says Peter Spies, manager of this sub-project at the IIS. “This has enabled us to build entire electronic systems that do not require an internal battery, but draw their energy from body heat alone.”

With all the current recalls on batteries from Nokia and the huge recall last year of Sony made notebook batteries, alternative methods of powering electronic devices are a huge area of research. Whether this body heat power technology works or not, it is only a matter of time before consumers can stop depending on batteries and move to fuel cells and other methods of getting power for electronic devices.

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Heat to electricity?
By Lonyo on 8/21/2007 7:02:07 PM , Rating: 2
I dunno about you guys, but my laptop gets hot when I use it.
Hot? That means it produces heat.
This tech turns heat -> electricity.
So, uh, yeah.
See where I'm going? Lets use this to turn the heat produced by our laptops back into electricity to power them!

RE: Heat to electricity?
By FastLaneTX on 8/21/2007 7:44:05 PM , Rating: 2
The key point is that you have to have a temperature difference for this to work, not just a high temperature. For the cold side to stay cold when there's a substantial difference (like car exhaust or a CPU), you need to have air flowing across a heat sink fast enough the radiated heat doesn't ruin the temperature differential. This is achievable for powering something like an iPod strapped to your arm while jogging, but it probably wouldn't gain you much for a laptop that's sitting on your 98.6F lap indoors...

RE: Heat to electricity?
By Samus on 8/22/2007 3:08:54 AM , Rating: 2
Yea, but the temperature difference he mentioned from the laptop that runs at 50c+ at load is far greater than the delta we create, even if we're jogging to increase our body temperature.

There are alternatives, such as Timex biowatches that generate their power through our arms, although in the form of electrons of static electricity instead of heat) but heat is a far more stable solution.

However, the idea of this technology is to power low voltage devices (in the 200mV) range. Those devices will never generate enough heat to power themselves because they must run at no more than a few watts to be without battery or some sort of capacitance.

RE: Heat to electricity?
By oTAL on 8/22/2007 5:52:13 AM , Rating: 3
Those devices will never generate enough heat to power themselves because they must run at no more than a few watts to be without battery or some sort of capacitance.

No device will ever generate enough heat to power itself.
However, you could use wasted heat to gain back some of the used power, as in the laptop case.

RE: Heat to electricity?
By mindless1 on 8/22/2007 6:12:44 PM , Rating: 2
For any substantial gain in runtime it would be much larger, much heavier, much more expensive. Instead they could just throw a few more cells into the battery pack and have a superior product. Some things that are theoretically possible are not so marketable.

I'm not even sure why this is news, generating power from low heat levels was existing tech, though seldom used since you can't get much done with a few mW of power and anything more is not so convenient or practical for a portable application, especially considering that electricity to charge a battery isn't too hard to find.

"There is a single light of science, and to brighten it anywhere is to brighten it everywhere." -- Isaac Asimov
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