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UC San Diego harnessing energy from fingertip sweat

Nanotechnology lab creating wearable device
Posted at 5:58 AM, Jul 15, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-15 11:14:29-04

LA JOLLA, Calif. (KGTV) - Researchers at the UC San Diego nano-technology lab have found a way to create energy without lifting a finger.

They've created a device that turns sweat from your fingertips into power.

"The enzymes break down the lactate in your sweat, and that can create energy," explains Yu Lin, a doctoral candidate in the NanoEngineering Department.

He published a paper on July 13 in the scientific magazine "Joule" outlining the biofuel device he helped create in the lab. It's made of carbon foam electrodes. Those use a particular enzyme to interact with the lactate and oxygen molecules in sweat to produce energy.

Yin's device is the first to allow users to create electricity without intense physical exertion.

"In general, you don't want to move around all day. You don't want to exercise and be sweaty all the time only to generate a small amount of energy," Yin says. "We want to address that issue and create a continuous, reliable source of energy for wearable devices."

Yin says the fingertip has thousands of sweat glands and produces much more sweat than other parts of the body. But because fingers are exposed, the sweat typically evaporates before we notice it.

The device would capture the sweat before that happens. That means it could work while people are sleeping or simply going through their normal, daily activities.

The device also reacts to pressure, so actions like typing or scrolling on the phone could create energy.

That electricity could be used to power other small devices or sensors on the body. Yin says his lab is working on sensors that would measure glucose in the body to help people with diabetes. It could also measure electrolytes in athletes to determine hydration levels.

"All of those sensors can ideally be powered by wearable energy harvesters like this," says Yin. "We can achieve continuous day-long health monitoring using sweat."

Right now, the energy created by the device can only be measured in millijoules. The lab is working on ways to increase the power output and also make the device more stable.

Yin says it's still a few years away from widespread use.