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Move over, alkaline and lithium—the urine-powered battery is on its way, according to British researchers.
A research team led by the University of Bristol in conjunction with the Bristol Robotics Laboratory and the University of West England was able to power a number of electronic devices with urine, including a Samsung phone to send text messages, make brief phone calls, and even browse the web.
According to the study published in Royal Society of Chemistry journal, Physical Chemistry Chemical Physics. The phone was under urine-power for 24 hours and used approximately 17 ounces of urine.
Engineer Ioannis Ieropoulos, an expert in harnessing power from atypical sources, says that using urine to produce electricity is “about as eco as it gets,” according to a Bristol Robotics Laboratory press release.
The urine is converted through a microbial fuel cell that contains live organisms such as bugs found in soil and in our gut. These organisms eat the urine, break it down and produce electrodes, which is then used as energy. “Urine is exceptionally good as a fuel for those microorganisms,” says Ieropoulos in a video published by Bristol Robotics Laboratory.
The hope is that eventually, urine-powered fuel cells—or microbial fuel power stacks (MFCs)—can be used domestically to power small devices such as light fixtures, electric razors, and electric toothbrushes, possibly through smart toilets, which is also on Ieropoulos’ to-do list.
The implications of such a finding is clear: unlike renewable energy sources such as that generated from recycled plastic, which requires a serious commitment and full buy in from the public, the supply of urine would not require sorting bins and recycling tubs—all of which require serious commitment from a large populous. And unlike erratic renewable energy sources such as that from wind farms and solar power, the supply of urine is never-ending.
The study is funded in part by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, with hopes that urine-power will have significant real-world applications.
"The reality is that this technology allows us to turn something that was going completely to waste into something as useful as electricity," Ieropoulos opines.
By. Joao Peixe