Chewing: The next frontier in renewable energy

Canadian scientists have developed a new way to generate electricity by using a chinstrap made from smart material that is able to turn chewing food into electricity to power small gadgets.

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Dr Aidin Delnavaz and Dr Jeremie Voix, mechanical engineers at École de Technologie Supérieure in Montreal, Canada, researched different ways to draw electricity from the head and found the jaw is by far the best.

"We went through all the available power sources that are there," Dr Voix told the BBC. "But on the way, we realised that when you're moving your jaw, the chin is really moving the furthest," said Dr Voix. "And if you happen to be wearing some safety gear... then obviously the chin strap could be actually harvesting a lot of energy."

Some of the other power sources they found use heat from inside the ear canal and the overall movement of the head, which could be used in the same way that wrist movements power some watches.

The chinstrap itself is made from a smart material that is charged when stretched, though the prototype needs to be made 20 times more efficient before it can generate useful levels of power – something that can be done by adding layer-upon-layer of extra material.

"We can multiply the power output by adding more PFC [piezoelectric fibre composite] layers to the chin strap," he said. "For example, 20 PFC layers, with a total thickness of 6mm, would be able to power a 200 microwatt intelligent hearing protector."

Comfort is another question the two scientists will be dogged by as the project grows and Dr Delnavaz explained that he wore the prototype “for many hours” and never felt that his chewing or talking was impeded.

Materials that are more efficient are being sought for the final product, however, there are no plans to use the technology to power devices that need more juice such as mobile phones.

"You could power cochlear implants and things like that," commented Prof Steve Beeby from the University of Southampton. "But it's not going to be useful for recharging your mobile phone or anything like that."

Companies wanting to use the technology to charge bluetooth headsets have already approached the scientists and one day cycling to work will be very different if Dr Voix has anything to do with it.

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"I cycle to work every day, I wear my helmet... Why not have my bluetooth dongle recharged by that strap?"Porthole Ad