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Could Sweat Help Power Wearable Devices in the Future?

Ross Kelly

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Wearable devices

New research could open up the possibility of generating power through more sustainable and environmentally-friendly means. 

Wearable devices in the future could be powered by human sweat instead of conventional batteries, according to scientists at the University of Glasgow.

In a recently published paper in the Advanced Materials journal, engineers from the University’s Bendable Electronics and Sensing Technologies (BEST) group suggest that by working up a sweat, users could generate enough power for a range of exercise monitors and other electronic devices.

The team has developed a groundbreaking new type of flexible supercapacitor which replaces the electrolytes found in conventional batteries with sweat. This can be fully charged with just 20 microlitres of fluid, the researchers revealed, and is durable enough to survive rigorous use.

Dr Libu Manjakkal, who works with the BEST group and contributed to the paper, commented: “It’s an exciting development, and we’re keen to continue exploring the possibilities that sweat power providers for the future of wearable electronics.”

The device works by coating polyester cellulose cloth with a flexible, environmentally friendly polymer known as poly(3,4-ethylenedioxythiophene) polystyrene sulfonate.

As the cloth absorbs the user’s sweat, positive and negative ions in the sweat interact with the polymer’s surface, which then creates an electrochemical reaction and generates energy.

Researchers tested the effectiveness of the technology by inviting volunteers to run outdoors and on a treadmill while wearing a version of the device. Trials showed that volunteers perspired enough to help the device generate around 10 milliwatts of power – roughly enough to power a small bank of LEDs, researchers said.

Commenting on the findings Professor Ravinder Dahiya, head of the BEST group and leader of the research, said: “Conventional batteries are cheaper and more plentiful than ever before, but they are often built using unsustainable materials which are harmful to the environment.

“That makes them challenging to dispose of safely, and potentially harmful in wearable devices, where a broken battery could spill toxic fluids onto skin.”

He added: “What we’ve been able to do for the first time is show that human sweat provides a real opportunity to do away with those toxic materials entirely, with excellent charging and discharging performance.”

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Professor Dahiya and the team have developed a range of novel bendable technologies, including solar-powered ‘electronic skin’ that could be used in robotics. Long-term, they are planning future research to explore whether sweat power could be integrated into other devices.

“As wearable devices like health monitors continue to increase in popularity, it opens up the possibility of a safer, more environmentally-friend method of generating sustainable power – not just for wearables but possible also for emerging areas such as e-bikes and electric vehicles, where sweat equivalent solution could replace the human sweat,” he said.

Ross Kelly

Staff Writer

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