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In June of 2019, Delhi hit 118 degrees Fahrenheit. This March was the hottest on record in India. The same was true for April. Most of northern India broiled this summer, with temperatures regularly soaring past 110 degrees Fahrenheit. On a searingly hot day in May, the high in the capital hit 121 and birds, struck by the intense heat, fell from the air. 

Since 2010, there’s been a 2,200 percent increase in heat waves in the north. With time, they will only get more furious. If this trend continues, by 2100, nearly all parts of South Asia will become too hot for human survival.

It’s Getting Hotter

Only eight percent of Indians have air-conditioning and many do not have a continual supply of electricity. They must, therefore, depend on fans, air coolers and jerry-rigged cooling mechanisms.

As the subcontinent and the planet, as a whole, gets hotter and hotter, those who don’t live in climate-controlled environments will feel its swelter and suffer.  

But they can harness the heat to generate their own electrical power, enough to enable them to run their own wearable fans, a.k.a., a neck fan and other portable technology, such as a watch, a V.R. gear, sensors that track health data, among others, without having to draw power from chemical batteries. 

Sweat As a Savior

This summer, a team of researchers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst found a way to generate electricity from sweat. Yes, sweat. 

This comes at the cost of the hard toil of a knot of tiny, rod-shaped bacteria with a ponderous name—Geobacter Sulfurreducens. Working in a manner similar to the “vaporators” on Tatooine, they harvest the energy packed in the evaporation of moisture in our sweat and convert that into electricity.

“The more sweat, the better. So, a tropical area would be better,” Jun Yao, professor of electrical and computer engineering at UMass, told India Currents. 

These animalcules are known to produce electricity. What’s new, though, is that they are now being grown together in colonies that look like thin, porous mats, Yao explained. These mats, which are about as thick as a sheet of paper, are etched with very small circuits by laser. They are then sandwiched between a pair of electrodes and those layers, in turn, are sealed in a soft, Band-Aid-like polymer.

That little, flat contraption is then ready to be “plugged in” by affixing it to the body. By the time the bacteria crank out several voltages, they have evolved into, what are in essence, biological batteries. There is no looking back after that. They then continue to work on and on, without care for rest or wage. Oddly, the bacteria are not alive, Yao added.  

“Our next step is to increase the size of our [mats] to power more sophisticated skin-wearable electronics,” Yao said in a statement. 

As this is an emergent technology, it will be some time before it is launched commercially.  

Alakananda Mookerjee

Alakananda Mookerjee lives in Brooklyn, and is a Francophile.