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มหาวิทยาลัยสิงคโปร์ค้นพบวิธีผลิตไฟฟ้าจากหยาดเหงื่อ

The one common goal when creating any new tech these days is sustainability.

In the pursuit of a greener and cleaner planet, there’s been an almost religious focus on whether a new piece of tech or innovation is environmentally sustainable in the long run. Hence, we’ve now ended up with electric cars, hydrogen fuel cells, more efficient plastic recycling, and materials that are friendlier to the planet.

It’s all pretty positive and forward-thinking, but at times, you get something that’s completely unexpected. For example, a way to convert your stinky sweat into usable electrical energy.

Researchers at the National University of Singapore (NUS) have recently come up with a new film that can absorb and store moisture from sweat way more effectively than conventional materials, and even better yet, it can also help convert sweat into small amounts of electrical energy that you can use.

They tout the film as being “extremely effective in evaporating sweat from our skin and then absorbing the moisture from sweat,” and estimate that the material is able to absorb up to 15 times more moisture than usual hygroscopic (the ability to absorb moisture from air) materials such as zeolites and silica gel at six times the usual speed.

Due to the film being mostly made up of two hygroscopic chemicals – cobalt chloride and ethanolamine – the film is also capable of releasing water at rapid speeds when exposed to sunlight, and can also be ‘regenerated’ and reused over 100 times.

But magic happens when the film is used in the conversion of moisture to energy.

To create energy from sweat, the researchers also designed a wearable energy harvesting device containing eight electrochemical cells (ECs) that use the film as an electrolyte. Each EC is able to generate approximately 0.57 volts of electricity when absorbing moisture, and according to NUS, the total amount of energy harvested by the device will be enough to power a light-emitting diode (LED).

While this doesn’t sound like much right now, the concept sets the stage for a future where you can power gadgets as you perspire throughout the day, possibly saving you the hassle of carrying a power bank everywhere you go.

And should the technology gain even more traction, the concept of using moisture absorption could hypothetically be applied to tons more situations involving the need for small amounts of electricity.

But while creating energy from sweat is cool and all, the current and more tangible benefit of the university’s new film will be keeping people dry and fresh in the hot and humid equatorial weather.

The research team has already managed to present the film as breathable and waterproof polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) membranes that can be inserted into everyday wear, the most accessible examples being soles and linings in shoes and underarm sweat pads in shirts.

“Underarm sweating is embarrassing and frustrating, and this condition contributes to the growth of bacteria and leads to unpleasant body odor. Accumulation of perspiration in the shoes could give rise to health problems such as blisters, calluses, and fungal infections,” said Assistant Professor Tan Swee Ching from NUS.

“Using the underarm pad, shoe lining, and shoe insole embedded with the moisture-absorbing film, the moisture from sweat evaporation is rapidly taken in, preventing an accumulation of sweat and provides a dry and cool microclimate for personal comfort.”

It all sounds pretty useful, and there’s even a feature that changes the film from blue to purple to tell potential wearers just how much of their sweat has already been absorbed.

If you’re wondering when you’ll be able to actually buy and use any sort of product made from these films, there really isn’t an exact timeline for release.

All we know is that NUS is currently planning to incorporate their new film into consumer products, so hopefully we’ll see it in the market sooner rather than later.

Read more tech stories:

Japan is building wooden satellites because there’s too much junk in space

These plants will never die ’cause they’re made out of LEGO

Indonesia greenlights breathalyzer that can detect COVID-19 within two minutes

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Cover image sourced from Romper and The Guardian.

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