How do We Generate Human Electric Power?
When we think about electricity in nature, we realize our bodies are amazing creations, including having the ability to generate power for our active lives. Human electric power comes from burning the food we eat and turning it into heat and electrical impulses for muscle movement. Human muscle movement produces kinetic energy, which can be converted into power.
For a historical example from 100 years ago, cranking mechanisms were common on many appliances, such as wringers on washing machines or woodworking drills. Housewives also used foot-powered treadles to make sewing machines operate. About 60 years ago, every car had cranks to roll the windows up and down, and the adoption of power windows was considered a major step forward in the auto industry. During the times when there was no (or little) electric power, people simply used human power. That is why today’s survival equipment includes hand-cranked radios and flashlights that can be powered by a person turning a crank and storing that human electric power in a battery.
How much Human Electric Power do We Generate?
According to the Center for Space Power and Advanced Electronics, a NASA commercial center in Alabama, the human body is on average 15% fat, capable of producing 11,000-watt hours. A report from the Center stated that “Clearly the amount of energy consumed by an individual is sufficient to provide power for electronic devices if a suitable method can be found to convert a small fraction of that energy to electricity.”
As we continue to eat food, we turn it into energy and store some of it in our body fat. You could think of us as human storage batteries with power just waiting to be harvested: 81 watts from a sleeping person, 163 from a walking person, and 1,048 from a long-distance runner.
Another source, the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration, and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) pocket guide, gives the approximate electrical power a person generates while seated as 110 watts/hr, and during heavy work, it is 550 watts/hr. Although the two sources are not exactly aligned, they do give us a good general idea of our power potential. All we have to do is figure out how to use it.