New generator turns pee into electricity

An inexpensive power generator that converts human urine into electricity is being tested in the UK.

PTI| Updated: Mar 08, 2015, 13:01 PM IST

London: An inexpensive power generator that converts human urine into electricity is being tested in the UK.

It is hoped that the pee-power technology will light cubicles in refugee camps, which are often dark and dangerous places particularly for women, researchers said.

A prototype urinal situated near the Student Union Bar at the University of the West of England, is the result of a partnership between researchers at UWE and Oxfam.

Students and staff are being asked to use the urinal to donate pee to fuel microbial fuel cell (MFC) stacks that generate electricity to power indoor lighting.

"We have already proved that this way of generating electricity works," Professor Ioannis Ieropoulos, Director of the Bristol BioEnergy Centre at UWE, said.

"The microbial fuel cells work by employing live microbes which feed on urine (fuel) for their own growth and maintenance," said Ieropoulos, who led the research team.

"The MFC is in effect a system which taps a portion of that biochemical energy used for microbial growth, and converts that directly into electricity - what we are calling urine-tricity or pee power," said Ieropoulos.

"This technology is about as green as it gets, as we do not need to utilise fossil fuels and we are effectively using a waste product that will be in plentiful supply," Ieropoulos added.

The technology that converts the urine into power sits underneath the urinal and can be viewed through a clear screen.

"This technology is a huge step forward. Living in a refugee camp is hard enough without the added threat of being assaulted in dark places at night. The potential of this invention is huge," said Andy Bastable, Head of Water and Sanitation at Oxfam.

Researchers say it is the cheap, sustainable aspect of this technology, which relies on the abundant, free supply of urine that makes it so practical for aid agencies to use in the field.

"One microbial fuel cell costs about 1 pound to make, and we think that a small unit like the demo we have mocked up for this experiment could cost as little as 600 pounds to set up, which is a significant bonus as this technology is in theory everlasting," Ieropoulos said.