The power plant in us

Our future energy lifestyle will go beyond mere sufficiency. Thanks to technological progress, we could soon become human power plantsand produce the energy we need, writes GDI researcher Stefan Breit in a study.


The following text is based on an excerpt from the GDI study “A new world of Energy – From scarcity to abundance”, which you can download for free.

In recent decades, our energy system has become increasingly decentralised, bringing it closer to people in terms of space and ideas. The trend towards "prosumerism" is increasing, i.e. simultaneous (or successive) consumers and producers of energy. Slogans like  “off grid” –houses that are not connected to the local energy supply–advocate autonomous, self sufficient energy lifestyles. Simultaneously, movements emerge that examine the production of energy in humans themselves.

New materials are likely to play an important role in the process of turning people into power plants. After all, the human body is a large source of energy: just think of the seemingly infinite kinetic energy produced by human motion every day. Researchers from the University of Dallas have developed a new kind of thread ("Twistron") in an attempt to harness this energy. The energy-producing clothing of the future could draw energy from the wearer’s movement to satisfy low-level electronic requirements.

Developments in the field of advanced functional materials–materials with special electric, magnetic, or optical properties–will allow us to use adhesive, energy-generating film anywhere: as wallpaper,  a skin tattoo, or even as energy-producing solar paint. E-book readers and similar devices will no longer need to be recharged when they are made from advanced functional materials. The energy derived from ambient light, friction, or motion will be adequate to power small devices virtually infinitely. In a few years, charging our devices on a daily basiswill be a thing of the past.

Dereinst wäre sogar denkbar, dass wir ein Kraftwerk nicht nur an, sondern auch in unserem Körper tragen. Zum Beispiel in Form von Implantaten, die unser Empfinden von Wärme und Kälte verändern oder die das Sehen im Dunkeln ermöglichen würden. Durch eine solche (biologische) Verschmelzung von Mensch und Technik, auch als Cyborgismus bekannt, würde zwar nicht wie bei einem Elektrizitätswerk Energie produziert, jedoch könnte der eigene Energieverbrauch gesenkt werden. Denn wenn man sein Kälte- und Wärmeempfinden so regulieren kann, dass man nie friert, braucht es auch keine Heizung und wenn wir im Dunkeln sehen könnten, wäre Strassenbeleuchtung hinfällig.

In the future it, it is conceivable humans could have power plants  inside our bodies--for example, as implants which change our thermal perception to reduce temperature sensitivity or which enable seeing in the dark. Such a (biological) fusion of body and technology, known as "cyborgism," would not produce energy in the same way as a power plant, but could reduce one's personal  energy consumption. If you can regulate your perception of cold and heat in such a way that you never freeze, there is no need for heating. If we could see in the dark, street lighting would be obsolete. If we go one step further in this mental experiment, photosynthesis would be a conceivable strategy for human energy production. In the animal kingdom are creatures that  manage their energy consumption in this way. The Elysia chloroticasea slug feeds on algae but does not digest the chloroplasts it contains; these continue to live in the animal's body, whichenables the slug to photosynthesise–convert light into energy. We might also be able to generate our energy based on this technology. Although the amount of energy humans could generate through photosynthesis is far from enough to power our lifestyle, this “inner greening” could certainly become part of this lifestyle. Inspired by nature, future marathon runners might well move a little faster in the sun than they do in the shade.