Researchers at the the University of the West of England have just shared a novel solution to your mobile device power needs for e-booking or other uses. It’s a pair of socks designed to pump your pee through silicon tubes into a microbial fuel cell (MFC), where bacteria can generate electricity from your urine.
The pee-powered smartphone battery has been around for a couple of years in experimental form, and early research has even been funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. But “a mains powered pump is normally required to continually feeding the fuel, which is necessary to increase the performance and biofilm community survival,” according to the latest study. “Therefore, a wearable MFC self-sustainable system with the potential of being completely fed with human waste would require a manual pumping system, especially if used in outdoor conditions where gravity cannot be fully exploited.”
The researchers found inspiration for the pumping mechanism in nature, specifically fish. As they explain:
It indirectly utilises energy from human walking for gaiting to circulate urine, as the fuel, through the MFCs. The design for the structure and material of the foot pumping system was inspired by the fish circulatory system. The whole system consists of 24 individual flexible MFCs positioned on the fabric of a pair of socks, whereas the foot pumping part was made of soft tubing and check valves; the whole wearable system was complemented by a programmable transmitter board.
The transmitter board “is able to send a message every 2 min to the PC-controlled receiver station,” and “the whole open circuit output voltage of the system reaches 4 V.” That sounds like enough power to easily run an epaper device like a Kindle, and probably enough to charge a smartphone or other portable device.
Such technology perhaps isn’t as daft as it sounds. For instance, hikers or even troops might well find a use for it. If you’re a long-distance walker or cyclist with a portable mapping device or tablet to run, it might well work for you – after all, enough camping and outdoors retailers now stock power banks and solar chargers. And what about pee-powered devices for the Third World, including rural and even nomadic communities? Or the pedal-powered e-library? Not such a piss-poor idea after all, perhaps. Certainly the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation apparently believes it’s worth their support.