- jonathan webb
- Science correspondent, BBC News
Engineers in Canada have created a belt that converts the energy released from the chewing process into electricity.
Scientists believe that this chin strap will one day replace the batteries used in hearing aids and other devices.
However, its capacity still needs to be increased twenty times to produce usable power.
The scientists claim this can be done by increasing the layers of “smart material” used.
This ‘smart substance’ generates electricity when stretched.
This research work has been published in the journal ‘Smart Materials and Structures’ of the Institute of Physics.
Researchers Dr. Edin Delnawaz and Jeremy Voix believe that natural energy can be drawn from the movement of the jaws.
Dr Voix told the BBC: “We found from experiments that our chin exerts the greatest force when we chew. If you wear protective gear, a chin strap can generate a lot of energy.”
Using this principle, the researchers created a smart material strap that, when attached to the chin, was able to generate 18 microwatts of power from chewing gum for one minute.
Piezoelectric material was used in the strap.
Although 18 microwatts is not a lot of power. Even operating a hearing aid requires twenty times more energy than this, but Dr. Delnawaz believes this can be done by applying layers of smart material to the straps.
The research also showed that there is no need to tighten the strap to release energy. The same amount of power can be obtained by tying the straps slightly.
Professor Stevie Beeby from the University of Southampton says: “You can power the implant with this, but it won’t charge the phone.”
Dr. Voix hopes that commercial uses of his discovery can also be made.
He says, “I cycle to work every day and wear a helmet. Why can’t the Bluetooth dongle charge from the helmet strap?”
These possibilities may seem exaggerated, but companies looking for new technologies to charge Bluetooth headsets have shown interest in the work of Dr. Delnawaz and Voix.
Dr. Voix insists: “This is only a proof of principle, so far we have generated only a very limited amount of energy.”