With planet Earth facing a barrage of environmental threats — namely, fossil fuel depletion, pollution and climate change — clean, renewable energy is critically important.
And while emerging energy sources like solar, wind and hydroelectricity seem promising, they may soon be joined by the unlikeliest of renewable resources: urine.
In a new paper, a team of researchers at England’s University of Bath announced they developed a low-cost, pee-powered fuel cell capable of running electronic devices, including cell phones.
Dr. Mirella Di Lorenzo, a lecturer in the university’s department of chemical engineering and an author of the study, said the ability to harness the power of human waste could revolutionize electricity generation.
“Microbial fuel cells can play an important role in addressing the triple challenge of finding solutions that support secure, affordable and environmentally sensitive energy, known as the ‘energy trilemma,’” Di Lorenzo said in a statement. “There is no single solution to this ‘energy trilemma’ apart from taking full advantage of available indigenous resources, which include urine.”
UNIVERSITY OF BATH
Dr. Mirella Di Lorenzo, a lecturer in the University of Bath’s Department of Chemical Engineering, holds a pee-powered fuel cell.
The device is roughly the size of a U.S. quarter, costs between $1.50 and $3 to make, and “uses natural biological processes of ‘electric’ bacteria to turn organic matter, such as urine, into electricity,” according to a release. As urine passes through the fuel cell, it reacts with the bacteria, generating electricity that researchers say can either directly power an electronic device or be stored for later use.
Researchers said a single cell is capable of generating 2 watts per cubic meter, enough to power a cell phone for an unspecified amount of time, but the power output could be significantly increased by stacking multiple cells together.
While recognizing that the output of a single cell “is not comparable with other alternative technologies such as hydrogen or solar fuel cells,” researchers said the urine-powered fuel cells come with their own set of unique advantages, specifically small size and manufacturing cost.
Lead author Jon Chouler said he’s particularly excited about the cell’s potential in poor and developing countries.
“To have created technology that can potentially transform the lives of poor people who don’t have access to, or cannot afford electricity, is an exciting prospect,” Chouler said in a statement. “I hope this will enable those in need to enjoy a better quality of life as a result of our research.”
Surprisingly, this is not the first time scientists have pondered — or even proven — pee’s potential.
In 2011, Ohio University’s Gerardine Botte invented a way to use urine to create a hydrogen fuel. And a group of teenagers in Africa successfully developed a generator that runs on the bodily fluid.
So stay plenty hydrated, Earthlings, because apparently our bodies produce renewable energy daily.