The Renewable Resource of Urine Powered Electronics

Urine is rich in minerals and it is believed that this resource will be able to be harnessed and extracted efficiently and cost effectively at some point in the future to produce electrical energy. At the Bristol Robotics Laboratory in the U.K., urine is being studied as a potential energy resource for residential use within the near future (e.g. used to charge a smartphone etc.). Charging a smartphone with urine requires battery like fuel cells with Professor Ioannis Leropoulos (pronounced “yan-iss lee-raw-po-lis”) having developed a system capable of meeting this requirement. The application itself is referred to as “microbial fuel cell” technology, a system which leverages live bacteria to generate electrical current. Urine contains carbon, phosphorus, potassium, sulphur, magnesium, and creatinine, all elements which microbes require to continue living and growing which is why this technology functions as it does. The microbial fuel cell’s central tube is porous ceramic, allowing urine to permeate the tube and microbes to colonize it. As the elements of urine are consumed, electrons generated by the microbes are picked up by the cells of opposing wire coils, creating a battery. Not just any microbe will suffice however, as specific microbes are required for this process to be effective. To source the correct microbes, scientists leverage a plethora of microbes available within the natural environment (e.g. lake, pond, river sediment etc.). Each fuel cell produces 1.5 volts of electrical current, and when linked together in series, output can be increased to a level which is useful for daily activities. The system is able to be scaled so that it can be built into future homes, allowing for individuals and families to recycle urine as a means of generating electrical energy. Leropoulos’ work has been funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation as well as by the European Commission among others and is close to becoming commercially available as of 2020. For this system to benefit users, separate urinals would be installed but with redirected plumbing to funnel urine away from becoming mixed with common sewage and into a collection container, providing an on demand resource which can be utilized when needed

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