A collaboration between researchers at the University of West England Bristol (UWE Bristol) and Oxfam, an international organization dedicated to fighting poverty, is proving that urine might be an invaluable source of electricity in refugee camps and other impoverished areas. For decades, utilities in developed countries have derived energy from the methane found wastewater, but in areas where such complex treatment schemes are not possible, simple solutions such as a “pee-power” toilet could offer an inexpensive and desperately needed source of energy.
The team of researchers led by Dr. Ioannis Ieropoulos of UWE Bristol has already proven that electricity can be generated from urine through the use of Microbial Fuel Cells (MFC). Arranged in stacks, the cells are driven by microorganisms which feed on the nutrients in the urine and generate byproducts of carbon dioxide, electrons, and protons. Urine, often viewed as a waste stream, now can serve as a valuable source of nutrients, and with the help of microorganisms, can serve as a source of electricity as well. The team demonstrated the effectiveness of the technology, when in 2013 they used urine and MFC’s to charge cell phones. Now the team has installed a prototype urinal on campus to prove that enough energy can be generated to sustain lighting.
The campus urinal is similar to those the team is hoping to deploy in refugee camps in conjunction with Oxfam. Without any external source of light, a refugee camp at night can be a dangerous place, especially for women. The energy from the urinal is used to light up cubicles and provide protection to women from assault at night.
Each urinal has an anticipated price tag as low as £600 ($900), a strong selling point according to Andy Bastable, Head of Water and Sanitation at Oxfam.
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Source: UWE Bristol