Battery technology just hasn't improved as much as other electronic gadgets. We have computers that are more powerful than room-sized mainframes on our wrists, but we still can't go more than a day without recharging a modern smartphone. We've seen suggestions of various kinds of portable fuel cells
, but none seem ready for consumer gadgets just yet -- even several years after promising announcements. There are a bunch of ways of generating relatively small amounts of energy from everyday activities, so maybe we can generate electricity as we need it as we walk around. But probably not.
- Microbial fuel cells could be a convenient way to take personal portable energy everywhere you go, and a UK-based research group has one that runs on urine. Yup. The metabolism of live microorganisms can turn organic waste into electricity -- and urine has been demonstrated in a system that can recharge a smartphone. Another version of this system can be worn as socks (which would still require some way to get all the liquid to where it needs to go). The developers also say "smart toilets" could be a possible product. Uh, maybe in Japan? [url]
- If peeing into your socks doesn't sound like the fashion statement you want to make, you can also try harnessing the power of your footsteps with piezoelectric shoes. This tech needs to be a step up from the light-up kids shoes, and several folks are working on prototypes to get good-looking, adult-sized shoes that also generate a useful amount of electricity. [url]
- Capturing the energy from evaporation is possible, but scaling it up will take some work. An evaporation-powered toy car looks pretty cool, but making a generator many, many times larger to produce a practical amount of energy might be challenging -- especially since this method hasn't been rigorously tested outdoors (yet). [url]
- Fujifilm has a flexible thermoelectric material that can generate electricity from body heat. This energy-generating polymer could be added to solar cells to capture more energy, and optimistically, this stuff could be added to clothing. Maybe even your pee-soaked socks, someday.... [url]
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