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In the Future, Your Morning Latte Could Also Charge Your Smartphone

The technology to recycle thermoelectric energy already exists.

Barn Images/Flickr

Millions of humans rely on coffee to get them charged up in the morning. But what if, in addition to harnessing the caffeine to help their brains get going, people could also use the heat from their lattes to power their personal electronics?

According to Smithsonian.com, said technology is well within our current reach — and two Copenhagen design students hope to bring it to fruition. Sergey Komardenkov and Vihanga Gore recently came up with the idea for something aptly called Heat Harvest, which are pads that do exactly that: "The product captures heat from things like coffee cups and warm laptops and transfers it through a thermoelectric generator, which recycles it into electricity." For example, after cooking dinner, a user could place a hot saute pan on a table with a Heat Harvest pad built into it; then, the electricity could be used to charge a smartphone by simply placing it on top of the pad.

As co-creator Komardenkov explains, scientists have been familiar with thermoelectric energy for at least 200 years — but more recent developments in nanotechnology have enabled them to find ways to use it more efficiently. Unfortunately, he and Gore's design is just a mockup for now; created for an IKEA-sponsored design challenge, they had just two weeks to conceptualize the idea. But "While there are no immediate plans to bring Heat Harvest to market, Komardenkov and Gore say they imagine such technology may be part of homes of the future."

It's certainly easy to imagine coffee shops utilizing this kind of technology, enabling them to cut electricity costs with an eye toward sustainability while also making sure customers don't have to futz around with power outlets and chargers. Starbucks is already utilizing wireless charging technology in hundreds of its stores through Powermats installed in tables and countertops — though that technology still runs on electricity rather than recycling thermoelectric energy.

Watch how the proposed Heat Harvest technology could work, below:

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