60-Second Science

Bio-Battery Produces Power from Your Perspiration

Exercising in the future could make dirty clothes and some clean energy. Karen Hopkin reports

Do you like working up a sweat? Or do you feel like maybe sweat should work for you? Well, hold on to your sudoriferous glands. Because researchers have designed a device that could someday produce power from your perspiration. The schvitzy scheme was presented at the annual meeting of the American Chemical Society in San Francisco. [Wenzhao Jia et al, Epidermal Biofuel Cells: Energy Harvesting from Human Perspiration, in Angewandte Chemie]

Strenuous exercise generates lactate—the molecule that makes overworked muscles burn. Athletes sometimes evaluate their fitness by checking the lactate levels in their blood. To reduce blood draws, researchers came up with a monitor that could measure the lactate in sweat. The device they designed strips electrons from lactate, which creates a small electric current. The strength of the current reveals the amount of lactate.

To test the system, 10 volunteers wore the arm-patch sensor while they rode a stationary bike. And the device recorded the current they delivered as they dripped.

Then the researchers thought, what if they could tap into this energy to develop a sort of sweat-powered “bio battery?” Their proof-of-concept setup topped out at only about 4 microWatts of juice—not even enough to run a watch. But with better electronics, exercising in the future could make dirty clothes and some clean energy. 

—Karen Hopkin 

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]

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