Urine is a fact of life. It makes road trips difficult, stains the carpet (when pets do it), and it spawned the invention of plumbing just so we wouldn’t have to do it in the freezing cold. Pee is naturally sterile, can tell you a lot about your health, and despite the urban legends, is NOT a cure for jellyfish stings.
What you might not realize is that every time you go, you’re flushing a powerful source of renewable energy down the drain. See, your pee contains hydrogen, nitrogen and CO2, powerful substances that can be transformed into electricity using the right technology.
Read on for a bunch of cool stuff that’s already powered by pee, and neat inventions that could take this ever-present substance from waste to winning in the near future.
1. Carnival Floats – Brazil
The Carnival in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, is a massive street party with lots of alcohol. All that boozing leads to a lot of peeing, and we all know that drunk people aren’t the best at waiting in lines. As a result, public urination is a big problem during Carnival. The Electric Pee project, a joint effort of AfroReggae and JWT Brazil, aims to deploy special urinals in especially congested areas of the festival. “As the urine flows, the receptacles act like small hydroelectric plants, turning gears which create electricity,” explains Inhabitat. “The power is stored in large batteries in each electric urinal, which are then collected by AfroReggae and loaded onto their float truck. The batteries are then used to power the truck’s sound system which brings music to the street party.”
2. Off-Grid Generator – Nigeria
In November 2012, four Nigerian teenagers rocked international headlines when they demonstrated a working a urine-powered generator at Maker Faire Africa. The machine, while very crude and not exactly safe for home use, turned a single liter of urine six hours of electricity.
3. Disposable Battery – Japan
What if recharging your AA batteries required nothing but some liquid…even liquid you make yourself? According to Treehugger, the Japanese NoPoPo battery lasts 10 years and pumps out 500 milliamp-hours (mAh), which is equivalent to zinc-carbon batteries but a third of what an alkaline battery delivers.
4. Public Gardens – Anywhere
Tired of big cities that smell like pee? Designer Eddie Gandelman envisions a city where our need to relieve ourselves can also help provide more green spaces in which to relax. Gandelman created a combination public urinal-planter that turns exported waste into nutrients for growing vegetation. According to EarthTechling, the project employs three filtration materials: charcoal, crushed limestone and greensand. After filtration, the remaining urine flows into the central planter, feeding the plants.
5. Your Car – In The Future
A few years ago, a scientist at Ohio University developed a catalyst capable of extracting hydrogen from urine…hydrogen that could power your car in the future. Gerardine Botte used electrolysis to break apart urine molecules, exposing the hydrogen within. “…the electrolyzer needs just 0.37 volts across the cell to oxidize the urea, according to Botte. That’s less than half the amount of energy in an AA battery and considerably less than the 1.23 volts needed to split water,” reports Wired.