Researchers from Purdue University have developed a kind of technology that can be woven into fabrics to help collect human body heart into electrical energy and use it to power devices by the company Internet of Things (IoT) which include heart and respiration monitors.
Kazuaki Yazawa, a researcher at Discovery Park’s Birck Nanotechnology Center at Purdue University, had developed a flexible thermoelectric generator, which uses semiconductor strings sewn into fabric. The generator would collect heart from any kind of complex surface and convert it into electricity.
Yazawa says that the new technology could address the limitations of conventional thermoelectric generators.
“The human body provides a significantly low-heat flux which requires thicker thermoelectric elements. Optimum size should be larger than one inch in order to generate high power output,” he said. “These characteristics limit the technologies use as it is very rigid and cannot effectively fit the three-dimensional form of the body,” he explains.
Yazawa said that this technology made out of woven semiconductor strings could totally replace traditional thermoelectric generators by giving them more flexibility to work on more surfaces and making them easier to manage.
The only way to reduce the thickness of the module is by designing the thermoelectric generator using a weaving technique. This allows the technology to be very flexible and dense,” says Yazawa. “Lengthening the threads and using a unique combination of insulation makes the generator more flat and manageable, which makes it ideal for use in clothing or any shape that can be wrapped in a flexible fabric that has waste heat such as a chimney or coffee cup.”
“Additionally, these semiconductor strings are able to harness the maximum amount of heat from the body or other ambient heat sources, providing reliable power for internet of things devices. This can eliminate the need for batteries.”
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He said that this technology could potentially benefit tech wearables like the ones used in the medical industry. “Heart monitors, respiration and perspiration monitors are very useful for the elderly or those recovering from a trauma. There also is a huge market for wearables in sports to optimize human performance,” he said. “If you have a patient or an athlete who is overheating, real-time information of their vitals could be used by coaches and medical professionals to better monitor and treat their players or patients. These types of devices need energy to be actively charged so they can be used continually.”
The flexible thermoelectric generator can also provide a cooling effect. “Anything that takes heat and converts it to another form of energy is also providing a cooling effect. Therefore, this technology also could provide a continuous cooling treatment,” he explains. “This could be especially beneficial from a sports or military perspective. The flexible substrate could be applied to undergarments and when athletes are running the technology could help give that little bit of charge.”
The technology has been patented by Purdue Research Foundation’s Office of Technology Commercialization.