Environment

The Future Could Be Pee-Powered: Researchers Design Revolutionary New Fuel Cell That Runs on Urine

A new fuel cell could revolutionize bioenergy production.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia

Reducing the effects of climate change demands that we reduce emissions. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, three-quarters of “human-caused emissions” come from burning fossil fuels.

For the sake of the planet, we all need to do our part in promoting alternative energy. Outside of installing solar panels or wind turbines on your home, though, the big question is: How?

The key may soon be our pee.

Last week, researchers from the University of Bath, Queen Mary University of London and the Bristol Robotics Laboratory published their design of a new type of microbial fuel cell that turns urine into electricity. If manufactured, the new fuel cell, which is smaller, cheaper and more powerful than existing designs, would revolutionize bioenergy production.

For the uninitiated, microbial fuel cell devices use the natural processes of certain bacteria to turn organic matter into electricity. A key difference between these cells and other forms of bioenergy production is their ability to operate at room temperature, which makes for a cheaper and less wasteful process.

"Microbial fuel cells could be a great source of energy in developing countries, particularly in impoverished and rural areas," said Jon Chouler, a lead author of the study.

In large part, Chouler's confidence comes from his fuel cell's innovative design, which incorporates carbon cloth and titanium wire for the fuel cell's cathode, as opposed to previous versions that used platinum.

Another ingenious part of the team's design is the use of a glucose and ovalbumin catalyst (found in egg whites and other forms of food waste) to speed up the reaction and create more power. 

Thanks to these additions, the new fuel cell could genuinely empower millions of people around the world.

Sounds pretty good, right? Bottoms up.

Robin Scher is a freelance writer from South Africa currently based in New York. He tweets infrequently @RobScherHimself.

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