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Let’s Talk About Sweat

The average person loses half a liter of sweat each day. All this sweat is usually left in the underarm creases of white crisp shirts. But Swedish engineers are not letting this go to waste. They have found a way to harness, not the sweat per se, but the body heat given off by commuters and use it to heat buildings. Although the capturing of body heat to be later used as energy is not a new concept (it is used at the Mall of America), the Swedes have innovated this practice through the ability to transfer the heat from one building to another. Talk about hot technology.

The logistics of the system are not that complicated. A Time article from April 15, 2010, looked into the process. Here a simple rundown: the heat generated by commuters at the Stockholm train station is captured by the station’s ventilation system and used to warm water in underground tanks. The water is then pumped into pipes and transferred to a 13 story building 100 yards away. What makes this system great is that it is environmentally friendly but also pays for itself. The building’s energy bill will decrease as much as 20% each year and it will receive about 15% to 30% of its heat from the station.

Using innovative and alternative methods such as this one is very popular in Sweden and other European countries that are way ahead of the US when it comes to adapting green technologies. In Denmark, for example 20% of the countries energy is generated from alternative sources such as wind, whereas in the United States it is a mere 3%. But the article mentioned that such alternative systems as the body heat capturing one would not be seen as valuable in the United States as in Sweden or other European countries. Why? The United States has relatively low energy prices compared to other countries. Low prices allow the consumption of more energy without seeing financial repercussions when the utility bill arrives. Because Europeans don’t enjoy such generous pricing, they have to search for new ways to bring down costs, which much alternative energy provides. While using the system in Europe may show clear and deep cuts in cost, in the US, after installation, the system may not reap the same financial benefits.

But we shouldn’t allow economy to trump ecology. The environmental profits that the system will provide should be enough of an incentive to implement it. And despite the fact that the financial aspect will not be as prominent, the system does reduce energy costs, which will eventually pay for the cost of all the installation. For both the wallet and the environment, it’s a win: win.


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