Researchers at Wake Forest University have developed a new technology called Power Felt, which is capable of converting body heat to electricity. Power Felt is constructed with carbon nanotubes that integrated in plastic that feels just like fabric, according to Wake Forest graduate student Corey Hewitt. As a thermoelectric device, it can create a charge simply be leveraging temperature differences.
"Generally thermoelectrics are an underdeveloped technology for harvesting energy. There is so much opportunity," Hewitt said. "We waste a lot of energy in the form of heat. For example, recapturing a car's energy waste could help improve fuel mileage and power the radio, air conditioning or navigation system." The difference between room and body temperature could be enough to deliver enough charge for a phone call, or a flashlight. On a bigger scale. Power Felt could be used as "piping" between the outside and inside of a house to help lower electricity bills.
Power Felt is still in its nascent stages and does not deliver enough power to make a case for mass production. At this time, the researchers have been able to stack 72 layers of carbon nanotubes, which deliver 140 nanowatts of power. They are now working on ways to add more layer and make the layers thinner to achieve greater power output. One day, they hope that Power Felt could only cost $1 to be added to a cellphone.
"I imagine being able to make a jacket with a completely thermoelectric inside liner that gathers warmth from body heat, while the exterior remains cold from the outside temperature," Hewitt said. "If the Power Felt is efficient enough, you could potentially power an iPod, which would be great for distance runners. It's definitely within reach."
Wake Forest University said it is in talks with investors to produce Power Felt commercially.