Body heat: The latest source of renewable energy?
The COP27 in Egypt is well underway bringing with it an important reminder of the growing necessity to reduce CO2 emissions to help tackle climate change. Renewable Energy isn’t a new topic; however, the energy crisis seems to have pushed people and businesses to think of more innovative ways to foster clean energy, move away from fossil fuels and reduce CO2 emissions. One music venue in Glasgow, SWG3, has recently switched on a system that creates renewable energy from the body heat of people on its dancefloor. Using body heat as an energy source isn’t a new concept but this is the first time it has been implemented to power a building using solely clean energy.
Previous innovations using body heat as an energy source
The idea of converting body heat generated by the human body into energy has fascinated scientists for years. A resting male can put out between 100 and 120 watts of energy, which in theory is enough to power many of the electronics we use.
Back in 1998, Seiko launched a thermic watch which ran continuously off body heat on 1 microwatt. As long as the environment is cooler than the owner’s body, the watch would charge itself removing the need to change batteries.
In 2006, Vladimir Leonov and Ruud J.M. Vullers from Belgium built a working prototype of a blood oxygen sensor powered with body heat. It generated about 100 microwatts while the patient was asleep and up to 600 microwatts when awake and active.
Renewable Energy from dancers’ body heat
The system implemented at SWG3 in Glasgow, aptly called BODYHEAT was designed by David Townsend, founder of geothermal energy consultancy TownRock Energy. According to Townsend a person dancing can generate between 250W to 600W of thermal energy, pushing the owners of SWG3 to take a leap of faith and install the technology.
BODYHEAT works by harnessing dancers’ heat which is piped via a carrier fluid to 200m (650ft) bore holes that can be charged like a thermal battery. The energy then travels back to the heat pumps, is upgraded to a suitable temperature, and emitted back into SWG3 then used to heat and cool the venue. The owners say this will enable them to completely disconnect the venue’s gas boilers, reducing its carbon emissions by about 70 tonnes of CO2 a year.
The thermal heating and cooling system cost just over £600,000 to install compared to around £60,000 for a more conventional setup with typical air conditioning. However, the savings on energy bills will make the investment recoverable in about five years, depending on costs and will help the venue meet its commitment of becoming net zero by 2025.
With pressure on nations around the world to achieve net zero within the next couple of decades, innovative solutions like BODYHEAT could significantly help to reach these targets. In theory, any venue with footfall could use this technology, from music venues to office buildings, to airports. If this can be implemented on a global scale, the door could be opened to similar technologies that can convert thermal energy from humans into electricity to power our buildings and electronics.
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