A group of British researchers have found a way to use urine to charge mobile phone batteries, Discovery News has reported. The group used bacteria in a fuel cell to break down urine and generate electricity. The research, a collaboration between scientists at the University of Bristol and the Bristol Robotics Laboratory, was published in a paper in the journal Physical Chemistry Chemical Physics.
“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… one product that we can be sure of an unending supply of is our own urine,” said engineer Ioannis Ieropoulos.
What is in the Urine Battery
The urine battery consists of carbon fiber tubes acting as anodes placed inside ceramic cylinders. As urine is passed through the cylinder bacteria on the carbon fiber tube break down chemicals in the urine and build up charge, turning the two elements into a capacitor. Most fuel cells follow this same basic strategy, though the source of the charge itself is quite unique.
More typical fuels include hydrogen, methane, natural gas, and other hydrocarbons. Hydrogen fuel cells in particular have the advantage that their only byproducts are water and heat, making them an environmentally friendly way to store energy.
The team is calling their invention the microbial fuel power stack (MFC), and they say that it holds enough charge to send a few text messages or make a brief phone call, and that it is currently the size of a car battery. The long-term goal is to create an MFC that is small enough to travel with and is capable of fully charging a regular mobile phone.
While the invention may have its most obvious applications for hiking and other wilderness activities, the team says that they hope the MFCs will one day power all manner of home devices. They have already completed their proof of concept, and the only task that remains is refining the prototype into something compact and more efficient. After that, it’s only a matter of convincing consumers that a device powered by their own urine is preferable to a plug and socket.