Will the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) soon be replaced by the Organization of the Pee Electricity Countries? It looks like we’re one step closer to that with the development of a small and inexpensive fuel cell that runs on urine.
The world produces huge volumes of urine and if we can harness the potential power of that waste using microbial fuel cells, we could revolutionize the way we make electricity.
Harnessing the potential power of pee was the goal of Dr. Mirella Di Lorenzo, author of the study in Electrochimica Acta describing the new small scale microbial fuel cell developed by Di Lorenzo and research teams from University of Bath, Queen Mary University of London and the Bristol Robotics Laboratory.
While larger recycling toilets and novelty generators (like urine-filled socks) have been developed recently, their size, costs and low power output make them prohibitive where urine-powered fuel cells could do the most good – in developing countries. Di Lorenzo and her team made their fuel cells inexpensive by using carbon cloth and titanium wire for the cathode. To make them more powerful yet efficient and inexpensive, the catalyst is glucose and ovalbumin, a protein found in egg white, that are both found in food waste.
To increase the power of their urine-based microbial fuel cells by a factor of ten, the team simply doubled the length of the electrodes from 4mm to 8mm. Stacking those cells in threes tripled their total power. Dr. Di Lorenzo believes this has revolutionized microbial fuel cells.
We have shown that the cell design has an incidence on performance and we want to further investigate the relevance of electrode surface area to volume ratio on performance. Our aim is to be able to effectively miniaturize the MFC and scale-up power production by generating compact batteries of multiple miniature units.
The world has plenty of urine. Sporting events, college parties and the size of the human bladder insure that the supply is renewable and virtually unlimited. Researchers have made urine-based microbial fuel cells cost-effective. Is it time to stop drilling and start peeing?