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New Socks Use Urine to Generate Electricity

But why?!

| 2 min read

But why?!

Researchers from the University of West England have developed a pair of socks that use urine to generate electricity. Yes, you read that right. Now I know you must have questions (I know I did). Would they squish? How would you get the urine in? Wouldn’t they smell?

Using a network of integrated tubes, the socks can store almost 22 ounces (648 milliliters of urine). As their wearer walks, it is pushed through microbial fuel cells containing bacteria that use the nutrients to create electricity. In the experiments performed, the socks created enough electricity to power a wireless transmitter that broadcasted a message every two minutes.

Diagram of urine powered socks

Photo credit: University of West England

Researchers don’t envision wearers having to deal with getting their own urine into the socks, which is a relief. However, they plan to sell socks with the urine already incorporated. Yes, you get to walk around in someone else’s pee.

Not convinced yet? Urine is one of the most abundant waste materials on Earth. Nearly 7 billion people produce about 10 billion liters of it every day. Why send it down the toilet when it could be used to power the world?

This isn’t the first time that researchers have looked into using pee to generate power. Typically it requires pumps to move it through the microbial fuel cells, however feet make the process more efficient.

The idea was inspired from fish and their circulatory system — a single closed circuit powered by the pumping of the heart. Instead of depending on a heart, the socks use your feet.

If you can’t see yourself wearing these socks on a regular basis, what about in an emergency?

"You could carry a small fuel cell for low-power mobile communications without having to carry the fuel," said Chemist Shanwen Tao to New Scientist. He also believes that animal urine could be used to power farms in the future.

Despite the serious applications for these socks, only one term is going to stick with me:  “Wee-fi.”  

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