It’s an all too familiar situation: You’re out and about, when suddenly, or not so suddenly, your cell phone battery dies. Without a charger or power outlet in sight, you’re stuck disconnected, and possibly even unsafe. Well, thanks to scientists in Britain – and you’re urine – you may never have to run into this problem again.
Yup, that’s right. Scientists at the Bristol Robotics Laboratory in England recently devised a way to charge a cell phone using urine. Using 500 milliliters of urine, they were able to power a Samsung phone for a 24-hour period,
They were only able to charge the phone up to two bars, but during that time they were able to make phone calls, send text messages and surf the web.
Dr. Ioannis Ieropoulos, a senior research fellow, told ABC News that the urine was used to power microbial fuel cells, which are energy converters that can convert one form of energy into another.
It may sound gross, but this is how it works:
“We have been using urine as their feed stock,” Ieropoulos explained. “We have a system that allows the feeding of urine into these microbial fuel cells, and the output we get is electricity. Just imagine the microbial fuels as analogous to batteries. We collected them, gave them urine as the fuel, and that’s what is used to charge the mobile phone battery.”
According to Ieropoulos, urine is an ideal power source for small electronics. The scientist is an expert in using microbial fuel cells (MFCs) to generate power, and the first one to work out how to turn urine into energy.
His breakthrough research is published this week in the Royal Society of Chemistry Journal, and you can hear him discuss his findings here:
“We are very excited as this is a world first, no one has harnessed power from urine to do this so it’s an exciting discovery,” said Ioannis Ieropoulos from the University of West of England who has cooperated on the project with a team from the University of Bristol.
“Using the ultimate waste product as a source of power to produce electricity is about as ‘eco’ as it gets,” he said, emphasising that human urine is a type of resource humankind will always have at hand.
“The beauty of this fuel source is that we are not relying on the erratic nature of the wind or the sun, we are actually reusing waste to create energy.”
Ieropoulos hopes that the lab’s research will lead to the creation of a smart toilet capable of creating energy as waste goes down the drain. Moreover, this type of technology could be used in less developed parts of the world, without even the need for toilets to create energy as a byproduct of human waste.
Turning waste into energy is not a new idea. A few weeks ago, we brought you the news about Chiclana de la Frontera, a resort town in the south of Spain, that now has an extra attraction: the world’s first plant to convert sewage into clean energy. There’s also a plan to turn it into usable energy at the former Fresh Kills Landfill, on New York City’s Staten Island. Anyone who drove anywhere near this eyesore in the bad old days, between 1948 and 2001, knows how its stench would creep into your car, and your nostrils, and linger there for days.
But not any more: today the city is in the process of turning what was once the largest landfill in the country, at 2,200 acres, into a park.
Fresh Kills is one of 30 landfills around the country that have projects to turn landfill gas into “high BTU” pipeline quality clean natural gas; according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), this energy can heat 342,000 homes per year.
Let’s hear it for all our waste products!
Photo Credit: thinkstock