Wearables

Urine-powered socks get transmissions flowing

Urine-powered socks get transm...
Diagram of the urine-powered socks
Diagram of the urine-powered socks
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The experimental set up is based on fish cirsulatory syastems
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The experimental set up is based on fish cirsulatory syastems
The experimental urine-powered socks
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The experimental urine-powered socks
Diagram of the urine-powered socks
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Diagram of the urine-powered socks

Peeing in one's socks may not be everyone's first choice for powering their mobile devices, but apparently it could be an option. A team of researchers from the Bristol BioEnergy Centre at the University of the West of England is experimenting with a pair of socks that use urine to generate electricity via miniaturized microbial fuel cells. Results have already started to trickle in, with the system used to run a transmitter to send wireless signals to a desktop computer.

MFCs aren't new and this isn't the first such experiment conducted by the team led by Professor Ioannis Ieropoulos. In 2013, they powered a mobile phone using pee in an MFC, but that was a benchtop affair. The team claims that the urine-powered socks are the "first self-sufficient system powered by a wearable energy generator based on microbial fuel cell technology."

The key to this rather unorthodox style of footwear is the MFC, which converts organic matter directly into electricity. Inside the MFC there is a mixture of ordinary anaerobic microorganisms that release electrons as they feed – in this case, on the urine. The technology has been under development for 30 years, but because of problems in scaling up the technology to provide significant amounts of power, it has yet to find widespread commercial application. However, it is possible to attain practical levels of power when several small MFCs are stacked and wired together.

The experimental urine-powered socks
The experimental urine-powered socks

In the case of the socks, soft MFCs were embedded into a sort of support anklet, while a pump modeled after a primitive fish heart was embedded in the heel of the sock. The reason for this is that the microbes need to circulate through the MFC to remain alive and reproduce and metabolize efficiently. As the wearer walked about, the push-pull motion circulated the urine through the MFCs, which, according to the team, generated enough electricity to send a signal every two minutes to a receiver module controlled by a PC.

"This work opens up possibilities of using waste for powering portable and wearable electronics," says Ieropoulos. "For example, recent research shows it should be possible to develop a system based on wearable MFC technology to transmit a person's coordinates in an emergency situation. At the same time this would indicate proof of life since the device will only work if the operator's urine fuels the MFCs."

The research results were published in Bioinspiration and Biomimetics.

Source: UWE Bristol

11 comments
Bill Bennett
That picture of the guy in the blue and black sandals is actually David Szondy.
Bill Bennett
That guy in the sandals in the photo above is actually David Szondy.
Jkb Paraone
brilliant idea! you could take it a step further by running a taped hose up your leg tape it to your own outlet and down to the device could be overflow problems but worth a try
Smitty Jl
Given the vast amount of urine a average house or bar goes through in a year a larger version of these fuel cells could really help the grid.
natosoco
Oh... So, maybe this is just me... but just because you CAN do something, doesn't always mean you should. This is one of those situations.
Nik
So now you can use your baby to power your house, by plugging into its wet nappies/diapers. Why stop at babies? Adults could wear adult nappies/diapers just as easily, and power their phones, or whatever. Oooh! WoW!
Techtwit
Do the socks come with a puncture repair kit?
Catweazle
So what's new? Many years ago, in physics at school, we made and compared the output of batteries using a silver coin, a copper coin and bits of paper soaked in various liquids including Coke, lemon juice and urine. Not very powerful, but gave a measurable voltage.
ljaques
Oh, those savvy Brits. They think of everything. This reminds me of the effect George Washington had on the audience during his innauguration, where everyone peed in their seats. He simply said: "You're a Nation now!"
StWils
This is an especially crappy idea. But as an application example I can well imagine republica'nt extremists endorsing using this to power sensors for patients on medicare.