Urine-tricity: Electricity from Urine
Worldwide there are over 2.5 billion without access to safe sanitation. In attempt to address this need The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation are funding research on the topic: ‘Create the Next Generation of Sanitation Technologies’. As part of the Grand Challenges Exploration Scheme (Round 7) the Intelligent Bio Energy Group were awarded funds to support a project entitled 'Urine-tricity: electricity from urine'
The main aim of this proposal is to recover useful levels of electrical energy directly from urine, and thus convert an existing – entirely unexploited – waste into a sustainable fuel for the future, with concomitant clean water production.
To achieve this Microbial Fuel Cells (MFCs) utilize specialised, naturally-abundant microbes housed within the anodic chamber of the fuel cell as the bio-catalyst. The microbes are fed urine directly and as part of their normal metabolic process consume the urine which generates electrons and when connected to a cathode allows a path for these electrons generating current. In addition the passing of these electrons and protons through an ion-selective membrane, (which separates the anodic and cathodic chambers of the MFC), reacts with air generating clean water.
The principle that urine can be used directly to fuel MFC we have previously demonstrated (Ieropoulos et al; Phys. Chem. Chem. Phys., 2012, 14, 94-98). However the challenge is to maximise the power output which will inadvertently have the advantage of improved break-down of the waste material (making it safer for disposal) and importantly maximising water production. It is endeavoured this will be achieved by miniaturisation and multiplications of connected MFC units – the ‘Grand Challenge’ of this project.
The team has recently demonstrated for the first time the charging of a commercially available mobile phone, using Microbial Fuel Cells (MFCs) fed with real neat urine. The membrane-less MFCs were made out of ceramic material and employed plain carbon based electrodes. View the relevant scientific publication. For more details see our Press Release
Watch the video of the mobile phone working on urine.
- Dr Ioannis
Tel: +44 (0) 117 32 86318
Tel: +44 (0) 117 32 86322
BioEnergy and Self Sustainable Systems
Bristol Robotics Laboratory
University of the West of England
Bristol, BS16 1QY