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Scientists unveil urine-powered wearable energy generator

"This work opens up possibilities of using waste for powering portable and wearable electronics," said researcher Ioannis Ieropoulos.

By Brooks Hays
The urine-powered socks provide electricity for a wireless transmitter that sends signals to a PC. Photo by WE Bristol/Ioannis Ieropoulos
The urine-powered socks provide electricity for a wireless transmitter that sends signals to a PC. Photo by WE Bristol/Ioannis Ieropoulos

BRISTOL, England, Dec. 11 (UPI) -- It may be time to shut down this whole science thing. Nothing can top the latest invention out of the University of the West of England.

Researchers there have created a pair of urine-pumping socks capable of powering a wireless transmitter. It's about time.

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The socks utilize what's called microbial fuel cell technology, a process that uses bacteria to turn waste fluids into electricity. The socks are embedded with a miniaturized version of the technology. Urine is pumped across the fuel cells by the walking motion of the wearer. The fuel cells power a wireless transmitter that sends a signal to a nearby computer.

It's the first time microbial fuel cell technology has been used to build a wearable energy generator.

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A new paper describing the technology was published this week in the journal Bioinspiration and Biomimetics.

"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," study author Ioannis Ieropoulos, a professor at the Bristol BioEnergy Centre, said in a press release. "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."

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MFC isn't exclusive to urine. The technology harnesses the biochemical energy used for microbial growth -- any organic waste works.

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"This work opens up possibilities of using waste for powering portable and wearable electronics," Ieropoulos added.

"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," Ieropoulos continued. "At the same time this would indicate proof of life since the device will only work if the operator's urine fuels the MFCs."

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