How Power Felt Works

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If your running jacket were lined with power felt, perhaps your body heat could power your MP3 player while you jog.
If your running jacket were lined with power felt, perhaps your body heat could power your MP3 player while you jog.
Tim Robberts/Riser/Getty Images

You've probably had this experience: You're on the go all day and haven't had a chance to plug in your iPhone, and just when you need to make a call or check your e-mail, you see that little red icon that indicates your battery is just about to run out. It's so frustrating it actually makes you get a little hot under the collar. But wait -- maybe that's the solution. What if, instead of blowing a gasket, you could somehow convert that excess body heat into electricity and use it to power your phone or another portable device?

You've actually seen a variation of this idea before, if you're a fan of the cinematic "Matrix" trilogy, in which a giant computer network powers itself by siphoning energy from legions of comatose, unwitting human beings. We're not talking about anything that creepy, though. Small-scale thermoelectric power generation, in which body heat is harvested to power portable devices, is a concept that scientists have been looking at quite intently in recent years -- as our craving to carry power-hungry gadgetry in our pockets has continued to grow.

Recently, researchers at Wake Forest University's Center for Nanotechnology and Molecular Materials gave a boost to thermoelectric power generation's prospects when they developed a fabriclike material called "power felt," which is capable of exploiting differences between an object's heat and the room temperature to generate an electrical charge [source: Neal].

One researcher who's worked on the project envisions fashioning a jacket from power felt and using it to power an iPod, an idea that sounds pretty great for cool-weather jogging enthusiasts. But power felt doesn't just have to go in a garment. A flashlight handle swathed in power felt might be a great thing to have during an extended power outage, and a car seat made of the stuff might draw energy from your posterior to power your windows or radio. And there are other non-human energy sources that we might use it to tap, as well [source: Neal].