Could renewable fuel to meet the world’s energy needs be a short jog away? According to new research from NC State, the answer is yes. A team of chemists and chemical engineers have found a way to create a butanol substitute using human sweat.
“The biggest stumbling block is going to be collection,” says Dr. Perseus Spire, a chemical engineering professor at NC State and lead investigator of the study. “We are all sweating, all of the time, but collecting that sweat on any sort of significant scale will be a challenge.”
Sweat is more than just water. Human perspiration also contains a variety of dissolved substances, such as 2-methylphenol (o-cresol) and 4-methylphenol (p-cresol). Spire’s team has developed a way to take advantage of these organic compounds to create a renewable energy source. The key, Spire explains, is the addition of inexpensive aliphatic hydrocarbons and iso-octane to the phenols found in sweat. “Aliphatic hydrocarbons and iso-octane are materials that are readily available,” Spire says. “This is an energy source for the future.”
Other researchers agree. “We sweat most when we are burning a lot of energy, and it only makes sense to try to capture that energy and put it to work for us,” says Dr. Stan Pitts, an assistant professor of chemistry at NC State.
“We envision ‘sweat stations,’ where people can attach what we’re calling ‘perspiration collection systems’ while they exercise,” says Dr. David O. Durant, associate professor of chemical engineering at NC State. “We can harvest the sweat from these systems, and distill the phenols we need.”
There is an economic downside, however. “If this research moves forward, it could play havoc on the antiperspirant industry,” says economics researcher Alex Wright-Garde from the University of Sudor.