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Human Energy Harvesting Technology Developed, Commercialized

Two walkers on a trail (National Institutes of Health)

(National Institutes of Health)

Engineers at University of Wisconsin in Madison have created a technology that harvests and converts energy from normal human activities like walking into electrical power for portable electronic devices. The work of Tom Krupenkin and J. Ashley Taylor appears in a paper in the journal Nature Communications, and is the basis of a company formed by the authors to take the technology to market.

The methods devised by Krupenkin and Taylor in Wisconsin’s engineering department, called reverse electrowetting, takes advantage of the energy expended by human locomotion that is normally lost as heat. The technology captures movement from an activity like walking in arrays of liquid microdroplets.

Those arrays, consisting of thousands of microdroplets, then interact with a nanomaterial substrate with electrodes that converts the captured motion into electric power. The amount of material needed for the arrays and substrate is small enough for a device that could fit inside shoes used for walking.

The power generated by the devices — up to 20 watts, 10 watts per shoe — could be transferred directly and wirelessly to the cell phones, tablets, or laptops held by the wearer. As an alternative, the power generated by the footwear could be captured by a Wi-Fi hotspot that distributes the power to battery-powered devices in its network. This approach would reduce the power drain on the network devices and extend their battery lives.

Krupenkin and Taylor started a company, InStep NanoPower in Madison, to commercialize the technology. Krupenkin has a U.S. patent on the technology — no. 7,898,096 — issued in March 2011.

Read more: Researchers Devise Formula to Calculate Walking Energy

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