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News, Technology, Wearables

From Sweat to Energy: The Next ‘Green Revolution’ in Consumer Electronics

Abhinav Raj

Abhinav Raj, Writer
@uxconnections

New ‘biofilm’ conceptualized by researchers at UMass Amherst can harvest energy taken to evaporate sweat off the skin to power wearable technology.

The biggest revolution in consumer electronics may not be Apple’s new Watch Series 8 or Samsung’s Watch 5—but the way wearable tech is powered. 

Researchers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst have conceptualized a new biofilm made with a culture of bacterial cells that can harness the energy released in the evaporation of sweat. The paper-thin sheet of bacterial cells can be used to generate bioelectricity which can be used to power consumer electronics—such as wearable gadgets. 

The remarkable feat of engineering is detailed in the scientific journal Nature Communications.  

Researchers remark that the concept is a pioneering development toward sustainable technology. 

“This is a very exciting technology,” expressed Xiaomeng Liu, a graduate student of electrical and computer engineering at UMass Amherst College of Engineering. 

Liu maintains that the energy produced by the biofilm is truly green—a distinctive feat of the concept. 

“It is real green energy, and unlike other so-called ‘green-energy’ sources, its production is totally green,” remarked the lead author of the study. 

At the heart of the ‘biological battery’ is a class of genetically engineered, gram-negative bacteria, known as Geobacter sulfurreducens. The microbes grow in colonies and connect with their neighbours through electrical interactions. 

(Image: Luke Chesser on Unsplash)

Researchers harvest the electricity produced by the colony of the bacterium by making small, laser-etched circuits into the film. Since the top of the skin is moist due to the production of sweat, the biofilm can generate bioelectricity by the action of the bacteria, powering small wearable devices—such as Fitbits, smart watches, and vital sign sensors.

The potential applications of biofilm in the consumer goods market are numerous as wearable tech has steadily been on the rise in sales and popularity. What makes turning sweat into energy an invaluable addition to wearables is that their form factor is immensely limiting for the amount of energy that can be stored—especially when installing larger batteries is not a viable option. 

In a few years, working out may not just rejuvenate your body and mind, but also your smartwatches. 

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