The dream of turning urine into something useful has seemingly been with humanity since ages. Now they turned into energy.
A new type of bacterial fuel cell turns urine into electricity at unprecedented rates and with never seen before efficiency. The urine fuel cell has been designed at the University of Bath, Queen Mary University of London and the Bristol Robotics Laboratory.
“The world produces huge volumes of urine and if we can harness the potential power of that waste using microbial fuel cells, we could revolutionize the way we make electricity,” said Dr. Mirella Di Lorenzo, the study author, from the University of Bath.
So far, there have been lots of studies on how to produce electricity from urine using various methods, but they were pretty ineffective and expensive. The new urine fuel cell, however, doesn’t use expensive materials like platinum, but carbon cloth and titanium wire.
To create more power and speed things up, the researchers used a catalyst made of glucose and ovalbumin, a protein extracted from egg white. Actually, these can be found in food waste, another source of bioenergy.
The scientists came up with a few innovative ideas to speed up reactions and produce more power. They increased the power productions tenfold just by doubling the length of the electrodes from their original iteration. They again stacked three of the miniature microbial fuel cells and got ten times more energy compared to what individual cells were able to give.
They also found the new fuel cells would be a good fit in villages and remote places, or in developing countries.
Now, I’m not against microbial fuel cells from food waste, human waste or any other organic waste, but as far as I remember, people used to build biogas plants by digging holes into the ground, throwing rotten stuff in there and microbes did their job without asking any scientist. And they burned the biogas, which instead of going up in the atmosphere as methane, went only as CO2, a far less aggressive greenhouse gas.
Producing electricity, from gas, on the other hand, is a different story. And this kind of discoveries are necessary for us to go beyond gas and past centuries, and recycle everything we have at our disposal. And, of course, throw less food and pee more.