Researchers out of the University of the West of England, Bristol, have improved upon an ingenious way to make pee work for the environment.
In 2013, researchers at the United Kingdom’s Bristol Robotics Laboratory developed a way to power batteries using urine. This new study has found a smaller and cheaper alternative, one which has the ability to power up and recharge a smartphone.
READ MORE: UK scientists use urine to charge cellphone
Microbial fuel cells take bacteria and turn organic matter into electricity. Though there are other ways of doing this, microbial fuel cells are the most efficient since they can run at room temperature and pressure. One downside, however, is that they can be expensive to make since they often use platinum. As well, they aren’t so energy efficient.
“Microbial fuel cells have real potential to produce renewable bioenergy out of waste matter like urine,” said Dr. Mirella Di Lorenzo, corresponding author of the study from the University of Bath. “The world produces huge volumes of urine and if we can harness the potential power of that waste using microbial fuel cells, we could revolutionize the way we make electricity.”
The new battery uses carbon cloth and titanium wire, a far cheaper alternative. They even use glucose and ovalbumin, which is found in egg whites. And an added bonus is that they are smaller than those previously built.
After producing the new fuel cell, the researchers delved further: they doubled the size from four mm to eight mm and found that the power output increased tenfold. Then, by stacking up three, they increased the power another tenfold.
“Microbial fuel cells could be a great source of energy in developing countries, particularly in impoverished and rural areas,” said Jon Chouler, lead author of the study from the University of Bath. “Our new design is cheaper and more powerful than traditional models. Devices like this that can produce electricity from urine could make a real difference by producing sustainable energy from waste.”