Clean energy from human urine

ONE-2-2016 20It used to be good only for water closets. Not true anymore. From human urine now we can extract potable water and energy too.

Energy self-sufficiency can be reached even using waste products as human urine. All we need to do is just walking – to circulate the fluid that feeds voracious bacteria: thus, it gets clean energy in emergencies.

An earlier English study confirmed this. The Bristol BioEnergy Centre, the Centre of Micro-BioRobotics and the Centre for Research in Biosciences have developed a portable and wearable device to transform human urine into clean energy.
The research team exploited the technology of microbial fuel cells (MFC), a bio-electrochemical system that drives a current by using bacteria and mimicking bacterial interactions found in nature.

These cells contain microorganisms similar to those found in wastewater treatment plants. When bacteria come into contact with liquid urine, they trigger a chemical reaction capable of generating a potential difference and, therefore, electric power.

The device is essentially a pair of highly technological socks inside which, through a network of small flexible silicone tubes and check valves connected to microbiological fuel cells (MFC), urine flows. The operation of the system is simple and based on the user’s walking. Tubes filled with urine pass under the heels, so that walking activates a pump that puts into circulation the urine already present in the device – about 648 ml of fluid, the maximum a bladder can hold.

The device is linked to a programmable transmitter that records how much energy has been produced.
The system has been checked for an extended period to test its performance and, during several experiments in the laboratory, it generated enough power to feed, via wireless and every two minutes, an emergency broadcast system.

You can imagine its possible use in highly critical situations: for example, it could be exploited by the army or by astronauts, but also to transmit the coordinates after a plane crash. It should be noted that the device can be activated by walking, which means that you have survived.

So far the only problem is the urine collection. Scientists do not know yet how to integrate the old urine with fresh liquid. Ioannis Ieropoulos, Associate Professor at the Bristol Robotics Laboratory, and his colleagues already imagined it equipped with a built-in fluid system, to get around the passage of the urine collection.

It is not the first time that the bladder scrap has been used to produce energy: with the same system, the British team had already activated a phone and a 3D printed robotic heart.

Recently they have created a toilet prototype capable of generating electricity from urine. The Pee Power, that unusual toilet name, was designed to solve the problem of the lack of energy in the refugee camps.

Thanks to urine, a free source always available, you can power small devices and provide light to refugees in tent cities without access to the electricity grid.

This technology is very attractive and straightforward, and can be used for different things. It can also be applied to sewage treatment plants, not only to purify water but also to produce useful electricity, exploiting everything that pollutes (any waste), to create something totally non-polluting. Too many options to let them cancelled in a flush.

Alice Masili

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