Breathing can be converted into power for mobile phones

by Search Gate staff. Published Wed 24 Feb 2010 23:10
Super-thin films that harvest energy from motion could be used to power electronics

Natural body movements such as breathing and walking could be used to power electronic devices like mobile phones and heart pacemakers, according to a team of scientists.

Researchers are reporting an incredible advance towards harvesting energy from ordinary, day-to-day activities.

In a study, published in the American Chemical Society's monthly journal Nano Letters, they describe the development of flexible, biocompatible rubber films for use in implantable or wearable energy harvesting systems.

The material could be used, for instance, to scavenge energy from the motion of the lungs during breathing and use it to run pacemakers without the need for batteries that must be surgically replaced every few years.

Michael McAlpine of Princeton University's Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, who led the research team, points out that popular hand-held consumer electronic devices are using smaller and smaller amounts of electricity.

That opens the possibility of supplementing battery power with electricity harvested from body movements.

He claims so-called "piezoelectric" materials are the obvious candidates, since they generate electricity when flexed or subjected to pressure. However, manufacturing piezoelectric materials requires temperatures of more than 1,000 degrees F., making it difficult to combine them with rubber.

The scientists describe a new manufacturing method that solves this problem. It enabled them to apply nano-sized ribbons of lead zirconate titanate (PZT) — each strand about 1/50,000th the width of a human hair - to ribbons of flexible silicone rubber.

PZT is one of the most efficient piezoelectric materials developed to date and can convert 80 percent of mechanical energy into electricity. The combination resulted in a super-thin film they call 'piezo-rubber' that seems to be an excellent candidate for scavenging energy from body movements.

The report reveals: “Efficient, highly portable energy sources have attracted increased interest due to the proliferation of hand-held consumer electronics.

“Decreasing power requirements for mobile electronics and nanodevices opens the possibility of augmenting batteries with systems that continuously scavenge otherwise wasted energy from the environment.

“Most intriguing is the possibility of utilizing work produced by the human body via everyday activities, such as breathing or walking. For example, the heel strike during walking is a particularly rich source of energy with 67 W of power available from a brisk walker.

“Harvesting even 1−5% of that power would be sufficient to run many body-worn devices such as mobile phones.

“Similarly, lung motion by breathing can generate up to 1 W of power. If this power were harvested into charging a pacemaker battery, it may increase the time required between battery replacement surgeries for patients.”

And it adds: “The excellent performance of the piezo-ribbon assemblies coupled with stretchable, biocompatible rubber may enable a host of exciting avenues in fundamental research and novel applications.”

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