Here’s a scenerio I’m certain most of you can relate to: I was sitting in ballroom 20 at Comic-Con a few weeks ago covering a number of TV panels. Halfway through the day I noticed that my iPhone was at only 17% battery, while my MacBook sat at a measly 26%. Caught out in the wild with no power to recharge my batteries I had to try and finagle my way through the afternoon by turning the wi-fi on and off. Shutting down when the computer was unnecessary, and also praying to the tech gods, were also on my agenda.
There’s a lot of wasted energy in movement, and we may soon be able to utilize the power lost with each footstep. According to Scientific American there are up to 10 watts of power lost to heat when your foot hits the ground. Scientists have known of this wasted energy, and continually try to harness the power. Unfortunately they have yet to get more than a few milliwatts.
Tom Krupenkin and Ashley Taylor of the University of Wisconsin in Madison have taken the idea of electrowetting and reversed the process to produce electricity. Normally a conductive liquid droplet is deformed by the use of an electric charge; what Krupenkin and Taylor have done is use the deforming electric drops to produce the electricity.
Currently they’ve only done up to 150 drops, producing a few milliwatts of energy. This is not much further than what vibrating plates have already accomplished. But Krupenkin believes they should be able to fit up to 1000 drops in an area that’d fit on the sole of a shoe, which could produce up to 10 watts of power. Enough to charge a smartphone.
Now if scientists could start working on utilizing the nearly 85% of wasted energy when operating a motor vehicle we’d be getting somewhere.