Public temperature checks have become standard practice around the world during the COVID-19 pandemic, and researchers at Texas A&M University are working to make testing on a large group of people faster and cheaper. than current methods.
Dr. Choongho Yu, professor and Sallie and Don Davis ’61 Faculty Fellow II in the J. Mike Walker ’66 Department of Mechanical Engineering, works alongside his students to harness thermal energy generated by body heat to power a small electronic self-maintenance device capable of detecting fever in its wearer.
The team’s research was recently published in Natural communications.
If successful, Yu said that such a device could benefit a large number of people -; especially when it is implemented in a public setting -; by quickly and effectively identifying fever.
The fever detector can be distributed to many unspecified people in public places at low cost, and this technique could be useful in the early and rapid detection of fever commonly seen from viral infection such as COVID, SARS , MERS and swine flu. “
Dr Choongho Yu, Texas A&M University
Graduate student Yufan Zhang, who is working with Yu on the project, said that while detecting fever can be an effective way to minimize viral transmission during a pandemic, a cheap, visible, and self-sufficient technique is needed to achieve this goal.
“The trapping of thermal energy shows great potential since an output voltage can be obtained by a temperature difference provided by the fever,” said Zhang. “To visualize the temperature changes, an electrochromic fever detector was fabricated and connected to the thermal energy collector.”
Using new principles of thermo-hydro-electrochemical energy conversion, Yu and his team are working to develop an efficient method to provide a charge to their fever detection device by harnessing thermal energy typically wasted by its user through corrosion properties of carbon steel electrodes.
“Our device is based on the corrosion of carbon steel to generate voltage and current,” Yu said. “The life of our device depends on the speed of the corrosion process.”
Considering the typical corrosion rate of carbon steel, Yu said the amount their device uses could last for over a decade.
While the team is still working to improve the power and current of their device, the results so far have been promising, with the observed thermal conversion to energy generating an unprecedented 87 millivolts per degree Celsius. This provided some volts -; large enough to operate typical portable electronic devices -; by connecting between four to eight devices in series, unlike conventional thermoelectric devices which require at least 1000 devices to obtain an equivalent voltage.
Zhang, Y., et al. (2021) Colossal thermo-hydro-electrochemical voltage generation for autonomous operation of electronics. Natural communications. doi.org/10.1038/s41467-021-25606-3.