Crying over climate change? Scientists can now produce electricity from tears

From the UNIVERSITY OF LIMERICK and the “now if we can just keep people wailing about climate change we’ll have sustainable energy” department. Reports are that “weepy Bill McKibben” will be the first large scale electric tears generation facility. Eric Holthaus will be in the control group:


Irish scientists can now produce electricity from tears

A team of Irish scientists has discovered that applying pressure to a protein found in egg whites and tears can generate electricity. The researchers from the Bernal Institute, University of Limerick (UL), Ireland, observed that crystals of lysozyme, a model protein that is abundant in egg whites of birds as well as in the tears, saliva and milk of mammals can generate electricity when pressed. Their report is published today (October 2) in the journal, Applied Physics Letters.

The ability to generate electricity by applying pressure, known as direct piezoelectricity, is a property of materials such as quartz that can convert mechanical energy into electrical energy and vice versa. Such materials are used in a variety of applications ranging from resonators and vibrators in mobile phones to deep ocean sonars to ultrasound imaging. Bone, tendon and wood are long known to possess piezoelectricity.

“While piezoelectricity is used all around us, the capacity to generate electricity from this particular protein had not been explored. The extent of the piezoelectricity in lysozyme crystals is significant. It is of the same order of magnitude found in quartz. However, because it is a biological material, it is non toxic so could have many innovative applications such as electroactive, anti-microbial coatings for medical implants,” explained Aimee Stapleton, the lead author and an Irish Research Council EMBARK Postgraduate Fellow in the Department of Physics and Bernal Institute of UL.

Crystals of lysozyme are easy to make from natural sources. “The high precision structure of lysozyme crystals has been known since 1965,” said structural biologist at UL and co-author Professor Tewfik Soulimane. “In fact, it is the second protein structure and the first enzyme structure that was ever solved,” he added, “but we are the first to use these crystals to show the evidence of piezoelectricity”.

According to team leader Professor Tofail Syed of UL’s Department of Physics, “Crystals are the gold-standard for measuring piezoelectricity in non-biological materials. Our team has shown that the same approach can be taken in understanding this effect in biology. This is a new approach as scientists so far have tried to understand piezoelectricity in biology using complex hierarchical structures such as tissues, cells or polypeptides rather than investigating simpler fundamental building blocks”.

The discovery may have wide reaching applications and could lead to further research in the area of energy harvesting and flexible electronics for biomedical devices. Future applications of the discovery may include controlling the release of drugs in the body by using lysozyme as a physiologically mediated pump that scavenges energy from its surroundings. Being naturally biocompatible and piezoelectric, lysozyme may present an alternative to conventional piezoelectric energy harvesters, many of which contain toxic elements such as lead.

Professor Luuk van der Wielen, Director of Bernal Institute and Bernal Professor of Biosystems Engineering and Design expressed his delight at this breakthrough by UL scientists. “The Bernal Institute has the ambition to impact the world on the basis of top science in an increasingly international context. The impact of this discovery in the field of biological piezoelectricity will be huge and Bernal scientists are leading from the front the progress in this field,” he said.

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The full paper, The Direct Piezoelectric Effect in the Globular Protein Lysozyme, by Aimee Stapleton, Mohamed R Noor, John Sweeney, Vincent Casey, Andrei Kholkin, Christophe Silien, Abbasi A. Gandhi, Tewfik Soulimane and Syed A M Tofail, is published in Applied Physics Letters (October 02, 2017). The article can be accessed at https://doi.org/10.1063/1.4997446.

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48 thoughts on “Crying over climate change? Scientists can now produce electricity from tears

  1. Interesting as a curiosity, but the power level of piezoelectricity is tiny. As in microscopic. Like trying to power your car by brushing your cat’s fur.

  2. Sounds like they’ll be “Hard Pressed” to find a similar method of electricity production from human biological products. Now if they could just find a way to produce energy from their effluence, all those Climats Change papers might just prove useful

  3. It is so silly. Piezoelectricity has been around since Pierre Curie and it is not used to generate energy. Quartz has a huge advantage over lysozyme, it does not degrade. If I were to build a piezoelectric device to generate electricity, I would use quartz. And there is also the problem of what force are you going to use to apply pressure on the crystals. I wonder what the yield is.

    • Environmentalists love going back to antiquated, useless ideas and pretending they’re new. That’s how we got the renewable disaster.

    • Get a few billion little kids to pound on crystals of lysozyme and we can generate enough light so that they can see what they are hitting, maybe. Talk about a broken window economy.

    • It is a surefire bet that the energy input has to be greater than the energy out. But then maybe they have learned to queeze it with direct sunlight or wind? Or hot air?

  4. “A team of Irish scientists has discovered that applying pressure to a protein found in egg whites and tears can generate electricity.”

    Um, does it produce more electricity than it takes to apply the pressure?

    If so, is this then a self-perpetuating power source?

  5. Or you could double down and cry at the very same time as misrepresenting your own 0.65°C temperature data as “about a full one degree”

    (MIT research from his own department found, very specifically, that the Paris Agreement NDC’s give a 0.65°C reduction, not 1°C):

    https://globalchange.mit.edu/sites/default/files/MITJPSPGC_Rpt291.pdf

    “One degree” includes unagreed, hoped-for, future scenarios that have been modelled, were by no means agreed at Paris and have nothing to do with the Paris Agreement.

  6. Don’t think this discovery has much commercial applicability. If you want a non brittle (quartz, lead zirconate titanate ceramics) piezo device, use PDVF plastic. My original sector at MOT was making auto pressure sensors using PVDF. As a joke, some of the engineers made a PVDF balloon, filled it with helium, tethered it to fine wires connected to the speaker output of a radio, and created the talking, singing, musical party balloon. We used to show it off to kids on bring your kids to work day to interest them in science and engineering.

    • Don’t think this discovery has much commercial applicability.

      I’m not so sure.
      Tesla can add a funnel to the steering wheel or gearshift of the Q3 Model 3 to catch the driver’s tears when it dawns on him he just wasted his money.
      It could be called the “Q3 Model T”!

  7. If we collect some crocodile tears
    we can generate many amperes.
    Scientists were told
    that the world might get cold
    Refuting their Earth warming fears

    -There’s a proper LIMERICK study ;)

  8. … leading from the front… Okay… We used to have a different verb for leading from elsewhere. Still, some science that interrupts the constant deluge of warming agitation and boy, do the climate stokers know about leading from waaay out front!

  9. Volcanic eruptions and El Nino

    December 9, 2010
    In this graph I superimposed your SOI cumulative graph with data for the ‘Pacific Gateway’(independent of climate / temperature events) located along 5 degree South parallel.
    http://www.vukcevic.talktalk.net/SOI.htm
    https://wattsupwiththat.com/2010/12/09/the-story-told-by-the-southern-oscillation-index/#comment-546889

    October 3, 2017
    “Large volcanic eruptions in tropics can trigger El Nino events”
    https://phys.org/news/2017-10-large-volcanic-eruptions-tropics-trigger.html

  10. I think that it’s rather quite cool
    That Limerick has it’s own school!
    And now liberals crying
    Can prevent the Earth’s dying.
    Oh irony, thou art so cruel!

  11. ” The ability to generate electricity by applying pressure, known as direct piezoelectricity, is a property of materials such as quartz that can convert mechanical energy into electrical energy and vice versa. Such materials are used in a variety of applications ranging from resonators and vibrators in mobile phones to deep ocean sonars to ultrasound imaging. Bone, tendon and wood are long known to possess piezoelectricity.” –

    It’s not worth the try – first you need energy to apply pressure then you get it back, minus efficiency losses, as electricity.

    The same with acid liquids.

  12. Well, hallelujah! Those climate scientists afflicted with “Pre-Traumatic Stress Disorder” could eventually contribute something useful to society.

  13. I find it very unlikely that any of the “climate team” or eco-loon crocodiles can cry enough tears to wet a fingertip. Let alone produce usable lysozyme.

    Stick with milk, or the cheaper commercial pressure devices.

  14. Eric Holthaus needs a shrink, it appears he has unsolved issues from previous relationships.

  15. A lachrymose lass of Skye
    Found pleasures derived from each sigh
    When her wiring was right
    She’d stay up all night
    By turns she would moan and then cry.

    Sorry, but limericks must be bawdy. It’s a rule.

  16. Business opportunity: Generating electricity from mammograms! This should save a LOT of CO2 is the mammogram machines could produce their own power. No subsidies required.

  17. There once was a crystal of lysozyme
    That wanted to be the worlds greatest mime
    When the pressure was on
    The electricity was gone
    And our moment ended up in slime.

    Best I could do. All research from Limerick – should be in prose.
    Once a young researcher in Nantucket …

  18. Now if they can just achieve the same breakthrough for perpetual motion using excuses and failed forecasts we will achieve the next great tech leap. Hook up Hillary to the machine first.

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