New fuel cell technology breakthroughs pave way for more alternative energy sources

By @vitthernandez on
A message from the Scottish National Party is displayed in the men's toilets at their annual party conference in Perth, Scotland November 14, 2014. The party faces the unusual position of having seen its support soar since it lost the independence referendum in September. So strong is its resurgence that it threatens to take any number of UK parliamentary seats from Labour at next May's general election. Reuters/Cathal McNaughton

The latest innovation on fuel cell technology comes in the form of socks embedded with miniaturised microbial fuel cells (MFCs). It is fuelled with urine pumped by the wearer's footsteps that powers a wireless transmitter to send a signal to a PC.

Published in a paper in Bioinspiration and Biomimetics , the experiment is led by Professor Ioannis Ieropoulos of the Bristol BioEnergy Centre at the University of the West of England. Normally, continuously flowing 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 simple 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.

Valuable green tech

MFCs use bacteria to generate electricity from waste fluids. It taps into the biochemical energy used for microbial growth and convert it directly into electricity. This technology can use any form of organic waste and turn it into useful energy without relying on fossil fuels, making this a valuable green technology.

"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. 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," Ieropoulos said.

"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," he added.

Crisis, emergency and disaster fuel cell

Aside from the socks with MFCs, the Centre has recently launched a prototype urinal in partnership with Oxfam that uses pee-power technology to light cubicles in refugee camps. There have been a few fuel cell technology which can be used in emergency preparedness and disaster relief. For example, Aqua Power’s initial product line was launched in 2009 in Japan and gained national attention following the earthquake and tsunami that devastated many parts of the country in 2011. Products included a water-activated AA battery which has more than 8 million sold to date, mini-LED flashlights, and portable radios.

Aqua Power Systems   ( OTCQB: APSI ) developed the Realistic Magnesium Air Fuel System (RMAF) technology harnesses electricity from the chemical reaction of the combination of magnesium, oxygen from the ambient air and a saltwater electrolyte. RMAF powered applications can be refuelled virtually without limit using the proprietary lightweight magnesium rods that fuel the chemical reaction.

RMAF fuel cells have a very long shelf-life, are lightweight, transportable, environmentally friendly, safe and easily scalable for greater power generation. It can also be used for outdoor recreation, and different industries such as mining, oil and gas and forestry. Military, marine, and automotive opportunities including main drive, electrical subsystems, and backup systems are also benefitting from RMAF technology.

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