Researchers have managed to create an electric fuel cell that is charged via urine.
Clean sources of renewable energy are the need of the future. When we see the environmental degradation due to fossil fuel consumption, such sustainable solutions take on even bigger dimensions.
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Solar, wind and hydroelectric energy sources are some of the alternatives. Yet there is one more source of energy that makes one do a double take. It is urine.
An economical urine-powered device exists that can charge mobile phones. Via a harnessing of this human waste product, the energy needs generated by the electronic and computer revolution could be solved in one go.
The “Energy Trilemma” we are facing currently is a point of departure for finding solutions that are practical and economical. The tact lies in finding the required energy in the most common of things and that includes human urine that normally goes down the toilet.
All that wastage could be put to good use instead. The gizmo used in this peculiar operation is about as big as a coin. It costs a measly $1.50 to $3 as far as its manufacturing price is concerned. As the urine filters through the device, an electric current is generated. This can power a device or be stored in a fuel cell for later use.
A single fuel cell may generate a power supply amounting to 2 watts per cubic meters. The power generation could be multiplied indefinitely by stacking several of these fuel cells one on top of the other.
This technology has no comparisons with hydrogen or solar cells since it cannot measure up to their capacity. Yet it is a utilitarian start and may lead to other potential fuel sources in the future. For one thing, it is very small in size and costs next to nothing to manufacture.
Especially, the urine-powered fuel cell could have many applications in developing areas that lack the basic infrastructure and resources to sustain a high standard of living and quality of life.
Poverty can be alleviated thanks to this handy gadget. The destitute can now have easy access to electricity thanks to this scheme of things. This isn’t the first time that science has come up with uses for urine.
In 2011, pee was used to create a hydrogen fuel cell. Also a group of adolescents in Africa manufactured a generator that runs on urine. Thus our own bodily fluids are being employed to create sources of fuel. This is indeed quite an exciting prospect.
Lecturer in the University of Bath’s Department of Chemical Engineering and corresponding author, Dr Mirella Di Lorenzo, said: “If we can harness the potential power of this human waste, we could revolutionise how electricity is generated.
“Microbial fuel cells can play an important role in addressing the triple challenge of finding solutions that support secure, affordable, and environmentally sensitive energy, known as the ‘energy trilemma’.
“There is no single solution to this ‘energy trilemma’ apart from taking full advantage of available indigenous resources, which include urine.”
Lead author and CSCT PhD student, Jon Chouler said: “Microbial fuel cells could be a great source of energy in developing countries, particularly in impoverished and rural areas.
“To have created technology that can potentially transform the lives of poor people who don’t have access to, or cannot afford electricity, is an exciting prospect. I hope this will enable those in need to enjoy a better quality of life as a result of our research.”
Head of the Department of Chemical Engineering and Co-Director of CSCT, Dr Tim Mays, added: “Renewable 'pee-power' is a brilliant idea and its use in developing countries will have huge positive impact on people's lives in areas of energy poverty. Dr Mirella Di Lorenzo, her PhD student Jon Chouler and their research collaborators must be congratulated on the innovative science and engineering that has led to this exciting development.”
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The full research paper titled ‘Towards effective small scale microbial fuel cells for energy generation from urine’ got published in Electrochimica Acta.