Urine-powered fuel cells to offer pee power to people

August 27th, 2010 - 2:17 pm ICT by ANI  

Washington, Aug 27 (ANI): This could literally be called pee power to the people-researchers have figured out a way to make the world’s first urine-powered fuel cells.

Chemistry postdocs Shanwen Tao and Rong Lan at Heriot-Watt University’s School of Engineering and Physical Sciences in Edinburgh are turning pee into electricity and clean water with a prototype fuel cell system. I had heard about pee-power for robots, but not pee-power for everyone.

While fuel cells usually rely on flammable hydrogen gas or toxic methanol to generate electricity, Tao and Lan’s cheaper prototype relies instead on urea, an organic chemical compound produced as waste when the body metabolizes protein.

Urea, also called “carbamide,” has several advantages as a potential fuel source-it’s abundant, non-toxic, relatively straightforward to transport and rich in nitrogen, reports Discovery News.

According to the university, Tao thought about incorporating urea because he had seen it used as a fertilizer while growing up in eastern China.

The Carbamide Power System prototype can break urea or urine from humans or animals down into water, nitrogen and CO2, and also produce electricity at the same time.

Unlike existing fuel cells that require catalysts made from precious metals like platinum, the “Youtricity” research group’s prototype uses a cheaper catalyst and less expensive membranes.

A 203,000-dollar grant from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council is helping the team develop the technology, which they think could be ideal for islands, deserts and even on submarines.

Plus, municipalities already spend a ton of money and energy removing urea from wastewater, so incorporating a system like this could help reduce those costs.

The prototype’s exact components aren’t being publicized, but the team is planning to have a demonstration system ready next year. (ANI)

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