Researchers Have Developed Wearable Microbial Power Plants (Socks That Use Urine to Generate Electricity)

walk in the snowOdds are you wouldn’t ever think of using urine as a power source, but that’s precisely the innovation that researchers from the University of the West of England came up with. They’ve made an actual pair of socks that use the liquid to generate electricity.

Walking in the socks forces a bladder’s worth of urine, which is roughly about 648 milliliters, to circulate through integrated tubes towards microbial fuel cells (MFCs), which contain bacteria that feast on the liquid’s nutrients and create electricity. In lab experiments, which were published in Bioinspiration and Biomimetics, the system was able to produce enough electricity to power a wireless transmitter to transmit the message “World’s First Wearable MFC” every two minutes.

“We are standing at the door of a vast new world of wearable technology – at a time when the first generation of wearable technology has barely matured,” says Tom Ajello, Founder, Makeable. “From tracking energy to energy generation to transaction and even more complex cognitive systems, wearable technology will have a massive surge in 2016. And each new world of wearables will introduce another one-perpetually.”

What’s crazy is that this isn’t all that new. The idea of using urine to generate electricity has been played with before, but the techniques usually use an electric pump — not human locomotion — to force urine through the fuel cell.

“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,” Heather Luckarift, a researcher at Universal Technology Corporation told New Scientist. “However, it’s not clear how you would get the urine directly into this system – how do you pee into your socks?”

Now, if you’re also worried about the logistics of the socks, about actually getting the urine in them to power them, don’t worry.

“We envisage gear or clothing that already has or could have excretion incorporated, without people having to worry about collecting or handling their urine,” Ioannis Ieropoulos, one of the team’s researchers, told New Scientist.


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