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Human urine can power cars, say researchers

Korea and Britain | June 18, 2014, Wednesday @ 15:57 in Environment » RESEARCH | By: Hajira Amla | Views: 5181
Human urine can power cars, say researchers

Filling up natural gas (Fiat Multipla) July 27, 2007, (Andreas Geick/wikimedia commons) Researchers in Korea are hoping to use urine to power fuel cells that would produce enough eco-friendly electricity to power homes, villages and even vehicles 

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(Seychelles News Agency) - With seven billion people populating the planet, the efficient treatment and disposal of human waste is often a problem that leaves government engineers all over the world scratching their heads. But if researchers in Korea have their way, human urine could soon be collected and used to power fuel cells that would produce enough eco-friendly electricity to power homes, villages and even vehicles.

The idea is a variation on existing technology for fuel cells, which have the capability of converting chemical energy into electricity by combining hydrogen and oxygen together to form a chemical reaction.

Fuel cells consist of an anode, a cathode and an electrolyte that allows charges to move between the two sides of the fuel cell. Electricity is produced when electrons are drawn from the anode to the cathode through an external circuit.

But the platinum catalyst used inside fuel cells is extremely expensive, and this factor is what currently prevents the technology from being commercially developed on a large enough scale to produce large amounts of electricity. Currently, fuel cells are primarily used for generators and some electric vehicles but costs are still prohibitive for manufacturers and consumers.

This could all change soon, according to a paper recently published in the science journal Nature by Jong-Sung Yu of Korea University, which argued that carbon atoms isolated from human urine offer a cheaper alternative than the platinum catalyst.

Jong’s team showed that they could make “highly porous carbon-containing heteroatoms such as nickel, sulphur, silicon and phosphorus from human urine waste as a single precursor for carbon and heteroatoms.”

The paper pointed out that should the technology be widely adopted, it would be beneficial to the environment by treating urine as an essential natural resource instead of a waste product to be discarded. Fewer pollutants carried by urine, such as antibiotics and other drugs not fully metabolized by the body would reach fresh water supplies and oceans.

Every day, an estimated 10.5 billion litres of urine is produced by humans – that’s enough to fill 4,200 Olympic-sized swimming pools.

This isn’t the only research being conducted on the possibilities of converting urine into power. British scientists at the Bristol Robotics Laboratory are currently conducting a similar project funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

They have already powered a mobile phone by using urine to feed microbial fuel cells, which consume the urine and generate electrons which in turn create an electric current when connected to a cathode.

The researchers are now aiming to design an innovative toilet solution for the foundation that would provide both electricity and sanitation in remote and poverty-stricken places.


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Tags: Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Britain, Korea, urine, electricity

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