The scientists at the University of the West of England (UWE) in Bristol, UK, have been experimenting with microbial fuel cell (MFC) technology for quite some time now. Their research is based primarily on the use of urine to generate electricity. In the past, the team has successfully powered mobile phones and even a 3D-printed robotic heart, with the help of MFCs and urine. As part of a recent project, the researchers have brought this technology to the fascinating realm of wearables, in the form of socks that use pee to produce electricity.
According to the team, each of these high-tech socks contains a complex network of integrated tubes that can hold nearly 648 ml of urine. Walking in them actually causes the urine, stored in the sock, to circulate through the tubes and move towards the microbial fuel cells. These cells in turn contain specific species of bacteria that consume the nutrients present in the pee to generate usable electricity. The findings of the research were recently published in the journal Bioinspiration and Biomimetics.
Producing energy from urine isn’t really a novel idea, as the technology has already been used to power a variety of mobile devices. Up until now, however, an electrical pump was needed to force the liquid towards the fuel cells. The new technology is completely self-sufficient and, actually relies on a manual foot pump that mimics the way fish circulate blood through their system with the help of involuntary muscles.
The socks possess flexible silicone tubes that envelope the wearer’s heels and connect to the fuel cells around the ankles. With each step, the tubes get squeezed and the urine is pumped around the sock surface. During lab tests, the pee-powered system generated enough electricity to juice up a wireless transmitter, which was used to send out a message every two minutes. Speaking about the technology, Ioannis Ieropoulos, a professor at UWE and the head of the research team, said:
We envisage gear or clothing that already has or could have excretion incorporated, without people having to worry about collecting or handling their urine… With a bit of imagination, it is not difficult to see how this could be part of smart textiles for more general use.
The technology, according to the scientists, could be used to send messages during emergencies, such as avalanche or even air-related accidents. Potential applications include use in the military, space and different types of outdoor clothing. Heather Luckarift of Ohio’s University Technology Corporation added:
There is a boom in wearable electronics, and the ability to make biological fuel cells that are flexible and wearable takes the application to the next level.
Via: New Scientist