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Body heat could be used to charge phones

by Michèle Nardelli

Drew Evans.It is a weekend and you are off on one of those two-day hiking treks that take you refreshingly far from the crowded city.

It is not a dangerous hike but it is a long way from any telephone battery recharge facilities if something does go wrong and you need to make a call.

If research being undertaken at UniSA’s Mawson Institute comes to fruition, it could be your own personal body heat, captured and converted to energy through polymers in your phone, that will keep it charged and ready for action.

Recently published in the prestigious scientific journal, Nature Materials, study results from the Institute’s Advanced Manufacturing Group describe and validate the engineering of the world’s first semi-metallic polymer, a material that behaves like a metal and semi-conductor at the same time.

Easy to fabricate and having the flexibility associated with polymers, the material’s thermoelectric applications could be revolutionary in turning waste or by-product heat into electricity in a wide range of applications.

Senior Research Fellow at UniSA, Dr Drew Evans, says fundamental research being conducted at the Institute with a team that includes Associate Professor Peter Murphy, Dr Rick Fabretto, Dr Pejman Hojati-Talemi and Professor Xavier Crispin from Sweden’s Linkoping University, is now laying the foundation for understanding the range of properties of this class of polymers that can conduct electricity.

“Conductive polymers were discovered in the late 1970s and they are now at the forefront of the push towards the next generation of consumer devices including flexible smart phones, large area displays and screens,” Dr Evans says.

“Our research describes and validates the engineering of the world’s first semi-metallic polymer – which combines the best properties of metals, like silver or gold, with semi-conductors, like silicon.

“These properties have never been shown in a flexible polymer before so it is opening up a world of possibility to us.”

Dr Evans says the next stage of the research will be twofold – collaborations in Europe and the UK to broaden the understanding of how to best engineer the polymers at the nanoscale for electrical and optical application, and here at home, fabricating and testing devices made with the semi-metallic polymer.

“It is exciting to imagine what might be possible,” he says.

“We believe we can increase the efficiency of a wide range of devices by using the new materials to generate energy from sunlight and heat waste, or store energy more efficiently in lightweight flexible batteries and fuel cells.

“There is also enormous potential in the area of spintronics or super-fast computing, with the flexible conductive polymer having the same potential impact that microchips had at the end of the 20th century.”