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April 14, 2014

Could future wearables be powered using body heat?

A South Korean research team have developed a light and flexible glass fabric-based thermoelectric system to generate electricity by harvesting body heat.

By CBR Staff Writer

Researchers at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) have developed a technology that uses a light and flexible glass fabric-based thermoelectric (TE) generator to produce electricity by harvesting body heat.

According to the research team, led by KAIST electrical engineering Prof Byung Jin Cho, the TE generator can be bent up to a radius as low as 20mm and can minimise thermal energy loss while maximising power output.

Researchers applied synthesised pastes of thermoelectric materials including bismuth telluride (Bi2Te3) and antimony telluride (Sb2Te3) onto the glass fibre to assist transforming heat into electricity by making use of the temperature difference between an individuals’ skin and nearby air.

Professor Cho noted that for the current case, the glass fabric itself serves as the upper and lower substrates of a TE generator, keeping the inorganic TE materials in between.

"This is quite a revolutionary approach to design a generator.

"In so doing, we were able to significantly reduce the weight of our generator (~0.13g/cm2), which is an essential element for wearable electronics."

Furthermore, researchers added that the KAIST’s TE generator for a wearable wristband device would generate around 40mW electric power as per the temperature difference of 31°F between human skin and the surrounding air.

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"Our technology presents an easy and simple way of fabricating an extremely flexible, light, and high-performance TE generator," Cho added.

"We expect that this technology will find further applications in scale-up systems such as automobiles, factories, aircrafts, and vessels where we see abundant thermal energy being wasted."

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