Pee-Powered Fuel Cells: The Power Stream of the Future

By: 08.25.10

For anything, be it a medical problem or a scientific advance, somebody is going to figure out a way to somehow involve urine. It’s just a given. There are probably people trying to get hospitals to let them pee in bullet wounds or something. Unlike most of these people, Shanwen Tao and Geraldine Botte aren’t urine fetishists or just random weirdoes, they’re respectable scientists who really have discovered the power of pee.

Botte’s idea was a fuel cell. Urine contains about 2% urea by volume. Unlike water, which has its two hydrogens pretty strongly bonded to that one oxygen, urea has four hydrogens and the bond is pretty weak. It takes about a third of the power to split urea compared to splitting water, and this cell will have useful implications for astronauts and other people in extreme conditions where power is needed. And, of course, gross hippies who insist on recycling everything. We’re not kidding; Google “humanure” if you really want to ruin your day.

Tao decided to stop goofing around and just invented a fuel cell that uses pee. So far, it’s only experimental, but it works. What’s in the electrodes is top secret, but he’s working on improving the efficiency. So, urinals around the world could drain not to the sewer, but to a huge tank that powers the building’s fuel cells. A tank scrubbed by a bitter, angry janitor who wonders why his life has come to this.

[ via New Scientist ]

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