Turning people green: harnessing body heat to warm buildings

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Wickedly creative ideas and inventions are spurring up all over the globe as everyone attempts to go green and become environmentally friendly.

Parisian engineers are testing a plan that uses human body heat, generated in an underground metro station, to heat a public housing project above. In this day and age, any type of alternative energy is better than the unsustainable fuels we’ve been using.

A recent article in Popular Science magazine said scientists estimate this system will reduce one-third of the carbon emissions generated by the building’s standard boiler system. This is significant because in a home that is gas-heated, boilers account for about 60 percent of its carbon emissions.

In Paris, the plan is to take the heat exuded by people, funnel it through tunnels and use it to heat up pipes underneath the apartments. Heat radiating from the trains as they whiz past will also help generate the necessary energy to fuel the heaters.

Since the amount of human bodies fluctuates, this system is only an added feature to the city which will still use other reliable heating methods. In other words, this system will only lower carbon emissions rather than eliminating them completely, which buys us more time to brainstorm solutions to the carbon emissions problem.

Paris is not the only city where innovative methods for heating buildings can be found. In a suburb of Minneapolis, Minnesota, the Mall of America has no central heating system. The building uses both passive solar heating and the warmth exuded from human bodies to heat the entire building. Over four million square feet, the structure relies on eight acres of skylights and millions of visitors every year to provide heat in the winter months.

Another example of this type of heating, which engineers are hyped up on, can be found in Stockholm, Sweden. Roughly a quarter of a million people crowd the train station every day and the heat released from their bodies is channeled through the station’s ventilation system to heat underground water tanks. The heated water is used to heat a nearby office building and lowers their utility bill.

One of the downfalls to this system is heat loss during transfer from the source.

Just to clarify, body heat is not what will come in through your heating vents inside an apartment or even at the Mall of America. The body heat will only aid in heating the source, like water, which in turn produces warmth for a business or residential unit.

Incorporating the body heat of a growing population is a great and practical source for energy. In a sense, we all will be helping one another stay warm. Ah, peace and harmony.