Published in the journal Bioinspiration and Biomimetics, a paper titled “Self-sufficient Wireless Transmitter Powered by Foot-pumped Urine Operating Wearable MFC” details the success of researchers from the Bristol BioEnergy Centre of the University of the West of England at generating electricity that powered up a PC from footwear filled with urine.
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The footwear comprises of tiny microbial fuel cells (MFCs) with urine serving as fuel, walking in the footwear powers up a wireless transmitter that sends electricity to the PC. MFCs utilize the bacteria within body’s waste fluids to generate electricity. The MFCs employ the biochemical energy that bacteria use for microbial growth to generate electricity.
It enables the conversion of organic waste into a technology that can generate energy without any recourse to fossil fuel, driving the initiative for green technology. The project was led by Professor Ioannis Ieropoulus of UWE Bristol, located at Bristol Robotics Laboratory.
"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,” Professor Ieropoulos said. “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 tiny MFCs placed inside the pair of socks worn by the human is supplied with urine so long the human keeps walking. Most other related experiment would require that a pump powered by a mains socket pass urine across the MFCs, but this particular model works only by a human walking.
Since the microbial fuel cells are under the heels of the individual walking, constant urine is pumped to generate energy that powers a wireless transmission board that in turn transmits a message a couple of minutes to a PC.
"This work opens up possibilities of using waste for powering portable and wearable electronics. 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 added. “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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Before this breakthrough with footwear, the researchers had earlier developed a prototype urinal in collaboration with Oxfam – this uses urine technology to power up light bulbs in refugee camps.