We've covered a lot of different uses for urine in the past. It's a renewable resource that, while disgusting to some, could actually do a lot of good. Pee can be used to boost your compost, it can be recycled to retrieve minerals and it can also be used to generate electricity.
It's that last one that is the focus of a new project by the University of the West of England in Bristol and Oxfam. The partners have built a urinal that produces electricity from pee using a microbial fuel cell. The first prototype has been set up at the university, but the ultimate setting for the technology could be refugee camps where lighting at night could improve the safety of everyone living there.
The creators wanted a way to solve the problem of attacks, particularly on women, in dark refugee camps. The urinals provide both private toilets and a way to generate electricity for lighting around the camps.
The microbial fuel cell technology behind the urinal is one we've written about a few times, like in this DIY version and this technology that produces energy from the bacteria present in the soil. In fact, this same research team has already proven that urine can generate enough electricity to power a cell phone.
"The microbial fuel cells work by employing live microbes which feed on urine (fuel) for their own growth and maintenance. 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. This technology is about as green as it gets, as we do not need to utilize fossil fuels and we are effectively using a waste product that will be in plentiful supply,” says Professor Ioannis Ieropoulos, Director of the Bristol BioEnergy Centre.
Right now, students and staff at the university are being asked to use the urinal to add "fuel" to the microbial fuel cell stacks, which are generating electricity for indoor lighting at the student union. In this prototype there is a window where users can watch the MFC in action.
You can see more about the project in the video below.