Earlier this month, Spanish energy company All-gas announced that it was spending over $15 million to research algae-based biofuels that grew on sewage. In other words: Spain is building poop-mobiles. Not to be out-done by the one-time Imperial rivals, a team of British scientists from Bristol have developed a new fuel cell for powering small electronic devices that runs on urine… the “streaming video” and “P-Mobile” jokes practically write themselves!
The key to this… “different” method of powering mobile electronics is a small “microbial fuel cell” (MFC) that converts the processes of organic matter into electricity. Inside the MFC, there are a number of anaerobic microorganisms that release electrons as they feed on organic matter in the urine. While the output of power is very small, it is possible to attain practical levels of power when several small MFCs are stacked and wired together. In the case of the Bristol project, four of the fuel-cell cylinders were hooked together in series (like batteries) to produce sufficient current to re-charge a mobile phone battery.
“We are very excited as this is a world first, no one has harnessed power from urine to do this so it’s an exciting discovery,” says Doctor Ioannis Ieropoulos from the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol), which came together with the University of Bristol to form the Bristol Robotics Laboratory. “Using the ultimate waste product as a source of power to produce electricity is about as eco as it gets.” The team expressed a desire to see similar technology bring more reliable electric power and connectivity to developing nations one day.
You can get a better sense of the pee-powered cell phones in the BristolUWE video explaining the microbial fuel cells, below. Enjoy!