Tapping body heat to power monitoring devices

By: admin | Oct 25, 2012        

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Geral Wiant of Perpetua with DHS jacket

Geral Wiant of Perpetua with DHS jacket. Photo Credit: Paul Savage Photography

By Padma Nagappan

What began as a diagnostic tool to find the best place to locate an energy harvesting device on an industrial pump or motor, is now being used to trap body heat and convert it into thermoelectric energy that can power monitoring devices worn on the body.

“One of our engineers placed it on his hand by chance and it converted body heat into electricity — so that was our ‘aha’ moment, when we decided to try developing this for mobile devices,” Gerald Wiant, VP of Marketing for Perpetua Power Source Technologies, told MobiHealthNews during an interview at the WLSA’s Wireless Health 2012 conference in San Diego this week.

Perpetua, which was founded in 2005 in Corvallis, Oregon, develops commercial applications for a thermoelectric thin-film technology that the company has an exclusive license to commercialize from Battelle Memorial Institute, which runs a lab for the US Department of Energy.

The human body is a perpetual thermal engine that generates huge amounts of heat and wearable thin-film thermoelectric generators or TEGs can convert this heat into electricity. This technology can be integrated into clothing or wristbands to power ultra low-power devices that monitor activity or physiological conditions, Ingo Stark, chief scientist at Perpetua said.

At the event Perpetua demonstrated a black jacket that uses the TEG technology to convert body heat into energy to power body-worn sensors. Perpetua has partnered with the Department of Homeland Security’s science and technology division to test the jacket.

The company, which currently has about 25 employees, has received “significant” funding from the Coquille Indian Tribe, which is based in Southern Oregon, and has also leveraged grants that total about $2 million to develop its technology.