Sometimes technology isn't pretty.
To wit: Researchers in the U.K. have released details on a wearable energy system that uses urine and socks for power. The idea: Pee into your socks via a series of tubes and let microbial fuel cells do the rest. Really.
The research team - from the Bristol BioEnergy Centre at the University of the West of England - claims that the new system is first fully self-sufficient wearable energy generator based on microbial fuel technology, or MFCs. In the test trials, the team used the MFC system to power a small wireless transmitter, but the long-term goal is to develop wearable power source for mobile devices.
Urine Made Sparkling Clean with New Bio-Filter
It works like this: Soft MFCs, embedded within the socks, use bacteria to generate power from waste fluids. The cells actually tap directly into the biochemical energy used for microbial growth and convert it directly into electricity.
The MFCs require a continuous flow of urine, however. Since the idea is to create a completely self-sufficient power system, the socks also incorporate a small pump in the heel. As the user walks around, the pump circulates the urine through the tubes, so that it can pass over the MFCs to generate energy.
The pump system is based on the circulatory system of fish and keeps fluid moving with the closed-system push-pull dynamic created by walking. In the initial tests, the system worked well enough to run a small wireless transmission board that communicated with a remote receiver module.
Bacteria Power Biological Fuel Cell
"Having already powered a mobile phone with MFCs using urine as fuel, we wanted to see if we could replicate this success in wearable technology," writes lead researcher Ioannis Ieropoulos on the university's project page. "We also wanted the system to be entirely self-sufficient, running only on human power - using urine as fuel and the action of the foot as the pump."
The scientific paper, "Self-sufficient Wireless Transmitter Powered by Foot-pumped Urine Operating Wearable MFC," was published in the journal Bioinspiration and Biomimetics.
Just in time for holiday shopping! After all, everyone needs socks.