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Please pee on my socks… I need to make a call

December 12, 2015 | By Anthony Capkun

December 11, 2015 – A pair of socks embedded with miniaturized microbial fuel cells (MFCs) and fuelled with urine that is pumped by the wearer’s footsteps has powered a wireless transmitter to send a signal to a PC… yes, you read that right.

Microbial fuel cells use bacteria to generate electricity from waste fluids. They tap into the biochemical energy used for microbial growth and convert it directly into electricity.

The experiment above is the first self-sufficient system powered by a wearable energy generator based on MFC technology, according to a scientific paper entitled “Self-sufficient Wireless Transmitter Powered by Foot-pumped Urine Operating Wearable MFC” (published in Bioinspiration and Biomimetics).

The paper describes a lab-based experiment led by Ioannis Ieropoulos of the Bristol BioEnergy Centre at the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol).


“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,” said Ieropoulos. “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.”

Soft MFCs embedded within a pair of socks was supplied with fresh urine, circulated by the human operator walking. Normally, continuous-flow MFCs would rely on a mains powered pump to circulate the urine over the microbial fuel cells, but this experiment relied solely on human activity. The manual pump was based on a fish circulatory system, and the action of walking caused the urine to pass over the MFCs and generate energy. Soft tubes, placed under the heels, ensured frequent fluid push-pull by walking. The wearable MFC system successfully ran a wireless transmission board, which was able to send a message every two minutes to the PC-controlled receiver module.

“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. At the same time this would indicate proof of life since the device will only work if the operator’s urine fuels the MFCs.”

PHOTO of urine-operated MFC © UWE Bristol.

• Anthony Capkun, Editor • acapkun@annexweb.com

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