Could urine could be the next big alternative energy source? Two researchers at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh believe it can.
Shanwen Tao and Rong Lan, are developing a urine fuel cell.
Urine could constitute a much safer solution than hydrogen, much cleaner and non-toxic than methanol and could offer an abundant source of energy… from obvious reasons.
“We’re only at prototype stage at present, but if this renewable material can be used as a commercially viable and environmentally friendly energy source, we will be absolutely delighted, and many people around the world will benefit,” Tao said.
“Growing up in rural eastern China I was aware of the use of urea as an agricultural fertilizer. When I became a chemist and was looking at fuel cell development I thought of using it in the process,” he also explained.
Their revolutionary new fuel cell dubbed the Carbamid Power System is designed to take in urine and produce electricity and clean water.
Fuel cells convert chemical energy into electricity through a series of reactions between a fuel and an oxidant. Fuels can include hydrogen or methanol gas, while the oxidants are usually, unsurprisingly enough, oxygen, although chlorine is also sometimes used. Unlike conventional batteries, they don’t store any chemical energy inside them, and so only operate when external fuel sources are supplied.
In theory, fuel cells could be a powerful producer of electricity, but their designs are often impractical. Hydrogen is highly flammable and methanol is toxic, creating major challenges in safely storing the required fuels. Also, some fuel cells require membranes and catalysts built from platinum, which obviously drives up the cost.
But the Carbamide Power System might just offer an alternative. The brainchild of Doctors Shanwen Tao and Rong Lan, this new fuel cell uses cheaper materials for its membrane and catalysts, and it uses a non-toxic, non-combustible fuel: urine. Specifically, a component of human and animal urine known as urea, which is currently mass-produced as an industrial fertilizer.
If this takes oil companies will be pretty “pissed off”!