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Shirt capable of converting body heat into electricity

Belgian researchers have created a shirt with an integrated device that converts body heat into electricity.

The engineers at electronics company Imec claim that the completely hidden thermoelectric generator (TEG) can harness the body’s heat to generate electricity that could power low-energy wearable electronics.

The TEG comprises 16 ‘thermopiles’, which are the individual electronic components responsible for converting heat into electricity. The voltage they generate is directly proportional to the temperature gradient across them.

These thermopiles are sandwiched between two plates, one hot and one cold, giving the device an overall thickness of 5mm.

Ruud Vullers, principal scientist at Imec, told The Engineer: ‘If you have two semi-conductors and you apply a thermal gradient across them then a current will flow.’

The device is reported to produce an average power of 1mW when sitting in an office at 22ºC. As a result it could power health-monitoring devices such as electrocardiograms, which only require about 0.4mW. 

The power output doubles when the user stands to 2mW and doubles again to 4mW when walking.

Vullers explained that one of the main challenges in creating the product was ensuring that the thermoelectric generator did not draw too much heat from the body and leave the wearer feeling cold.

The device has been designed, fabricated and integrated into an office-style shirt that can be worn without being easily identifiable.

Vullers claimed the latest shirt is far more comfortable than previous designs as the thermoelectric generator has been significantly reduced in size.

‘Two years ago we made a shirt and tried integrating several devices into it. However, they all protruded through the shirt and were clearly visible to onlookers.

‘The thermoelectric generators also had to pushed up right against the skin and as a result the clothing had to be uncomfortably tight,’ he explained.

Readers' comments (11)

  • Can they do a hat, to re-charge my brother's bilateral hearing aids?*** Maybe with inductive charging so that he can doff his cap without ripping his ears off...?)

    ***or the chav's bluetooth earpiece

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  • everything we do generates power....look around you and it is all there to be harnessed.

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  • 5mm won't be noticed under the shirt??? You are kidding! If it was put into a belt it wouldn't have to be washed every day.
    There is a multitude of ways TE generators could be used in a simpler and cost effective manner.

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  • good idea. what's the material you used?

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  • very nice work i need more about this research work...good work keep going

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  • "did not draw too much power and leave the wearer feeling cold"....this is what we people living in tropical countries would love to wear! I bet once put in the market, it would be an instant hit in India. Utilisation of the electricity produced would be secondary.

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  • It's the start of the Matrix. Eventually people will be forced to gather in groups and wear the generating garments while connected to the National Grid.

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  • Can I raise a fundamental question? How does one clean this garment without damaging it?

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  • Jason - the developers say the shirt can be washed and ironed, which must mean the device is waterproof and able to withstand high temperatures/pressures.

  • 16 thermopiles seems expensive. What is the expected cost?

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  • The inventors are to be applauded for their design and successful completion of this project in a manner that it inspires so many others to take off in even more interesting applications..Commendable work.

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