Sweat could fuel next gen­er­a­tion of wear­able sen­sors

Modern Healthcare - - OUTLIERS A SIDES & INSIDES -

The next big bio­fuel source could be the most lo­cally sourced yet—it’ll come from your own skin. A re­search team out of the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia at San Diego led by Joseph Wang has cre­ated a sweat-pow­ered ra­dio that was able to run for two days on per­spi­ra­tion. Re­searchers used a soft, flex­i­ble skin patch just a few cen­time­ters across that con­tains en­zymes that re­place the pre­cious met­als tra­di­tion­ally used in bat­ter­ies.

The tech­nol­ogy could po­ten­tially be used in wear­able ac­tiv­ity or health track­ers, re­searchers say. The patch pro­duces enough cur­rent to power a light-emit­ting diode or a Blue­tooth ra­dio.

Get­ting enough power from a bio­fuel cell to make it a vi­able fuel source has long proved elu­sive, but this lat­est in­no­va­tion can ex­tract 10 times more power than pre­vi­ous ver­sions. “We’re now get­ting re­ally im­pres­sive power lev­els,” Wang told New Sci­en­tist. “If you were out for a run, you would be able to power a mo­bile de­vice.”

Wang and his col­leagues used the lac­tate found in sweat to power the cells. The amount of lac­tate or lac­tic acid found in sweat is also re­lated to how ef­fi­ciently a per­son’s mus­cles are func­tion­ing.

“The most ex­cit­ing ap­pli­ca­tion is wear­able sen­sors that can mon­i­tor health con­di­tions,” Mirella Di Lorenzo at the Univer­sity of Bath in England told New Sci­en­tist. “Then sweat could gen­er­ate enough power for a Blue­tooth con­nec­tion so that the re­sults could be read straight from a smart­phone.”

An­other po­ten­tial ap­pli­ca­tion is glu­cose mon­i­tor­ing, which would al­low di­a­bet­ics to ditch nee­dles or blood sam­ples, since lev­els of glu­cose in sweat are re­lated to its con­cen­tra­tion in the blood.

The flex­i­ble skin patch de­vel­oped by Wang’s team con­verts sweat into en­ergy that can power a ra­dio and pos­si­bly wear­able sen­sors.

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