British scientists power cell phones with urine

google maps on iphone photo
CC BY 3.0 Marcin Wichary

Researchers are constantly working on ways to power our lives through alternative sources of energy. From power-generating insoles to thermoelectric flashlights, researchers know that plenty of energy could be harvested from the human body, through our movement, our heat, and now, our urine.

Scientists at Bristol University and Bristol Robotics Laboratory have created a fuel cell that uses bacteria to break down urine to generate electricity.

"No one has harnessed power from urine to do this so it's an exciting discovery," said engineer Ioannis Ieropoulos. "The beauty of this fuel source is that we are not relying on the erratic nature of the wind or the sun; we are actually reusing waste to create energy.

The team created the microbial fuel cell by growing bacteria on carbon fiber anodes and then placing them in ceramic cylinders. When urine is placed in the cell, the bacteria breaks down the chemicals in the urine, creating an electrical charge which is stored on a capacitor.

Currently the technology is the size of a car battery containing a stack of the microbial fuel cells and can power a cell phone enough to send texts, browse the web or for a short phone call, but the researchers want to make it even more compact and portable so that it can be carried around easily and used to charge any type of gadget.

The team ultimately hopes that the technology could lead to a smart toilet that can produce electricity from urine.

Tags: Cell Phones | Gadgets | Human-Powered | Technology