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Sun and sweat could replace batteries

2018-06-20

Malmö University researchers have teamed up with German colleagues to develop a hybrid power source that combines energy from the human body with solar energy.

In the future, this light-weight, sustainable power source could replace conventional batteries in portable devices.

Professor of biomedical technology at the University’s Biofilms Research Centre, Sergey Shleev, is heading the Swedish research group.

"Around ninety percent of the batteries we use worldwide today aren’t recycled. Considering that there will be approximately twenty billion portable electronic devices in use by 2020, the current situation simply can’t be sustained,” says Shleev.

In a recently published article, the researchers show that energy-rich sugar glucose can be extracted from the body’s own sweat and transformed into storable electricity.

The hybrid system is composed of three layers. The first is called indium tin oxide (ITO), a conductive material that resembles transparent film. The second is a thin nanostructure, and the third is a natural catalyst extracted from plants and fungi that accelerates the conduction process.

"We’ve developed a flexible and transparent material that can convert and store energy. Our next step is to refine these three layers so that the power source has maximum charge potential and is even more environmentally friendly. For instance, the metal in ITO could potentially be substituted for biodegradable polymers,” Shleev explains.

According to him, there are many advantages to using a material that is both flexible and transparent. 

“Flexibility means that power sources can be integrated into objects that require adaption, such as lenses, bandages and even clothes. Transparency, on the other hand, is not only aesthetically appealing — it also allows solar power to reach all of the energy cell's layers.”

Part of the project is being carried out at Ruhr University in Bochum, under the direction of Professor Wolfgang Schuhmann.

“Our teams complement each other well. They’re experts in nanostructures and robotics, while we provide world-leading expertise in biological materials,” Shleev says.

The research was previously backed by the Swedish Research Council but is now primarily funded by the Swedish Energy Agency, which has contributed 3,6 million SEK to the project.

Text: Charlotte Londahl Bechmann

Last updated by Maya Acharya