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The future is wheelchair generated electricity

by Tom Shakespeare

24th February 2010

I never knew how electrifying it would be to become a wheelchair user. And I’m talking the manual, not the power variety. All day long at work, I whisk up and down long corridors on vinyl flooring with my rubber tyres. I get to the lift, reach out to press the button and ZAP! Another few volts of static electricity discharged. This happens every few hours, every working day.

This got me to thinking. What a waste, for all that static electricity to dissipate into the atmosphere. There’s potential for comedy handshakes, in the manner of The Joker of Batman notoriety, but that’s just frivolity. In this era of global warming, there’s no excuse for wasted energy.
Wind turbines
If all the wheelchair users in all the lino-floored corridors in all the land were only able to plug themselves into the grid, surely we’d add up to a couple of wind turbines, at the very least? Why not store up some credit for the days that we’re draining the juice for the power chair?

And what about a small dynamo connected to the axle of the chair? Okay, pushing uphill is hard enough already, but all that free wheeling down slopes must surely have potential for power generation?

These idle thoughts were going nowhere until I saw that Dr Cui, a Stanford University researcher, has designed a new material that can transmit and store electricity, by impregnating it with an ink made of carbon nanotubes.
A futuristic body suit
The potential applications are mind-boggling. Not only could this result in clothes that could conduct current, but also potentially you could even turn your outer garments into a fashionable, wearable, rechargeable battery, by sandwiching these layers of nanocloth together and creating a supercapacitor.

Clearly, now we are on to something. The days of heavy batteries may be numbered. I’ve put my research team at the Myles na gCopaleen Central Research Bureau onto it, and the early signs are promising. Until this point in history, perpetual motion, like nuclear fusion and the philosopher’s stone, has remained a pipe dream. But now it looks tantalisingly close
A circuit board
Couple the electrostatic generation features described above, with the freewheeling dynamo booster element, and wire the whole system into one of Dr Cui’s ingenious supercapacitor-cagoules and what do you have but a personal electricity power station? Almost certainly sufficient to power a drive motor to boost uphill motion, and no doubt capable of supplying some pretty stylish headlights and a fancy personal stereo into the bargain.

So if you see me on a high street near you, festooned with cables and exuding sparks, you’ll know why.

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