Getting Electricity From Our Bodies

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I saw a tweet recently that got me to thinking (a dangerous pastime, I know). Yes, there’s energy everywhere, and the human body has a lot of it. By putting little push gears under the sidewalk, they figured out how to make electricity from people walking. Everyone will use a few more calories walking by, so our health will be better, too.

The video shows technology from Pavegen. It uses people’s footfalls to power tiny generators and make a little bit of electricity.

But if we’re going to extract energy from people’s bodies, why stop there?

According to a video I once saw, the human body makes a lot of bioelectricity. More than a 120 volt battery, if I remember correctly. Our bodies also generate over 25,000 BTUs of body heat. If we could find ways to harness all that, we’d have a lot of power. Add in a little fusion power at some point in the future, and we’d be set, even if solar power became unavailable for some reason.

Scientists are figuring out all kinds of ways to get at this energy and use it for electricity.

Nanotechnologist David Carroll of Wake Forest University found a way to make clothing that can capture a bit of our body heat and generate enough power for your phone and some health monitoring electronics. He calls it Power Felt, and it is actually pretty cheap to produce. It’s lightweight, feels like wool, and can be built into clothing to make it generate power. It’s possible to not only generate power from body heat, but measure the body heat coming from different parts of your body. This would allow the clothes to look out for various health issues, like an infection.

Other scientists developed a toilet that generates electricity from your poop. The toilet separates the pee and the poop, and flushes in such a way as to use 90% less water per flush. The waste can then much more easily be used to make power, fertilizer, and other products. It’s also possible to feed urine into a microbial fuel cell that can convert it into electricity, so there’s a lot of energy to be had there.

If we ever start putting machines in our bodies, like nanotechnologies that kill cancer and even pacemakers, they can be powered by the flow of our blood. Tiny microturbines can be used to generate the little bits of power those need.

Scientific American also told us a few years ago about ways to generate power from things like pushing buttons, knee braces, and many other things. Not much is generated, but it’s enough to power small things.

Few of these things make much power by themselves, but the cumulative effects can add up to greater things. If you get a team of people all pedaling together, it’s possible to add a mile or two of range to an electric car from all of the pedaling. Lose weight and generate power? That’s a great deal.

If we really want to make a giant impact, it would be wise to combine power from human bodies with reductions in energy use. The less we drive, the less we go places, and the less we eat, the more we will be able to save on energy. In fact, the pandemic proves that we generated a lot less pollution when everyone stays home.

We’ve all seen the wild before-and-after photos that showed the visible differences in pollution during the lockdowns, but NASA actually worked to measure them all from space and by using various computer models. The local differences in nitrous oxides, for example, were significantly lower in places like California and New York. In China, pollutants dropped around 60%, and similar impacts continued around the world as the virus spread. This gave scientists a lot of useful data.

I know that staying at home sucks, but we all had to come together for everyone’s health. To keep from getting depressed, one thing I did was set up an old phone VR unit I had. It really helps to go on virtual journeys around the world. It’s not as nice as actually going there, but it’s better than watching TV all day or staring at the wall when you’re not working.

One thing that would make this a lot nicer is if we could figure out how to combine human energy capture with better VR technology. VR body suits are becoming more and more sophisticated, allowing for both haptic and force feedback. This allows for realistic enough environments for some companies to use them to train personnel to do dangerous tasks without having to put inexperienced people in harms way, so it’s probably a great way for people to have some fun and possibly even work remotely. It may even be possible to combine VR suits with robotics to allow all sorts of dangerous tasks to happen from a safe distance at home.

If we integrate things like Power Felt into the suits, and find other ways to capture more human energy, it might make sense to spend a good part of our day in these suits, not only saving energy by staying home, but generating some. Think of all the pollution we could save this way!

Some people may eventually decide that the risks of leaving home just aren’t worth it. We could do most of our recreation, work, and even social fun through VR and stay home. With far fewer people out on the roads and out doing things, we’d have a lot fewer deaths and a lot fewer people injured. If it saves just one life, it would be worth it, right?

If we add in Neuralink technology, it might be possible for the experience to be immersive and realistic enough to avoid even feeling like we need to ever leave home. We could create a whole world of VR experiences and virtual work environments that keeps anyone from ever having to leave home. Without needing space, we could build very high density green housing that is not only carbon neutral, but generates electricity for future artificial intelligence entities who could take care of all the non-fun stuff people do every day.

But then again, that’s The Matrix. Maybe we shouldn’t go that far. Power generating sidewalks sound cool, though.

Featured image courtesy of Pavegen.

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Jennifer Sensiba

Jennifer Sensiba is a long time efficient vehicle enthusiast, writer, and photographer. She grew up around a transmission shop, and has been experimenting with vehicle efficiency since she was 16 and drove a Pontiac Fiero. She likes to get off the beaten path in her "Bolt EAV" and any other EVs she can get behind the wheel or handlebars of with her wife and kids. You can find her on Twitter here, Facebook here, and YouTube here.

Jennifer Sensiba has 1886 posts and counting. See all posts by Jennifer Sensiba