UWE researchers devise MFC technology that uses urine to generate electricity


Throughout the history of mankind, urine ironically had different applications in various fields – ranging from use as fertilizer, a component for collecting saltpeter crystals (for gunpowder) to even a cleaning fluid and as an (alleged) extinguishing agent for Greek Fire. Well, this time around, researchers from the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol) and Oxfam have successfully utilized urine for the generation of electricity. The fascinating ‘pee-powered’ technology employs what is known as microbial fuel cell (MFC) stacks – and they harness energy by means of complex bio-electrochemical processes that entail real organic bacteria.

According to the scientists involved, the efficiency of their MFCs were already showcased in 2013, when the cells were successfully used to entirely juice up a mobile device. And, this time around, the similar scope is streamlined with a more conscientious angle, as explained by Professor Ioannis Ieropoulos, the head of the research tem –

“The microbial fuel cells work by employing live microbes which feed on urine (fuel) for their own growth and maintenance. The MFC is in effect a system which taps a portion of that biochemical energy used for microbial growth, and converts that directly into electricity – what we are calling urine-tricity or pee power. This technology is about as green as it gets, as we do not need to utilize fossil fuels and we are effectively using a waste product that will be in plentiful supply.”

In other words, the urine can be categorically utilized for creation of electricity – and this where the expertise of Oxfam comes into the picture. Known for their sanitation solutions, especially in disaster areas, the pee-power technology can be used in urinals inside refugee camps. This nigh pertains to a symbiotic scope where the supply of urine (produced naturally by humans) can directly lead to the harnessing of sustainable power. The ‘green’ power in turn can be used for safety lights in the toilet areas which are particularly vulnerable to assailants during the night time.

Of course, the ambit of technology is not always enough when it comes to a practical scenario; the situation is also influenced by the cost factor. To that end, the pee-power technology might just make its case, with Professor Ieropoulos touting each MFC setup inside the toilet to cost around a feasible £600 (around $900).

Source: University of the West of England

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