Each device can power a mobile phone and costs under $3.
In an increasingly digitized world, researchers have been working tirelessly to find a safer and more effective way to generate electricity.
Researchers from the University of Bath may have an innovative means of generating electricity at very little cost, and the alternative source of the energy would come from a fuel that doesn’t run out and doesn’t produce harmful gases: your own pee.
The scientists developed a miniature fuel cell that generates electricity from urine, and the device could provide a new way to get electricity to much needed areas, like the developing world and remote areas, at a very low cost — each device costs under $3!
How does the little device work? A microbial fuel cell uses the natural biological processes of “electric” bacteria to turn organic matter, like urine, into electricity, according to the study press release. The fuel cells produce nearly zero waste compared to the other environmentally-straining means of generating electricity.
The researchers from the University’s Department of Chemical Engineering, Department for Chemistry, and the Centre of Sustainable Chemical Technologies (CSCT) teamed up with other bioenergy researchers in London to work on making a microbial fuel cell that is smaller, cheaper, and more powerful than other similar devices.
They worked to improve the cell’s design and maximize the amount of power that could be generated, and impressively, by increasing the cell’s electrodes from 4mm to 8mm, the power input was increased tenfold.
Now, a single microbial fuel cell can generate 2 Watts per cubic meter, which is enough to power an electronic device such as a mobile phone. Additionally, the researchers found that by stacking multiple units together, the power proportionally increased.
"If we can harness the potential power of this human waste, we could revolutionise how electricity is generated,” co-author Dr. Mirella Di Lorenzo, a lecturer in the University’s Department of Chemical Engineering, said in the release.
"Microbial fuel cells can play an important role in addressing the triple challenge of finding solutions that support secure, affordable, and environmentally sensitive energy, known as the 'energy trilemma,’” she continued.
Di Lorenzo says there’s no single solution to the “energy trilemma,” but taking full advantage of natural resources like urine could make a huge difference.
Lead study author and doctoral student Jon Chouler says that microbial fuel cells could be a great source of energy in developing countries, particularly in the poor and rural areas.
"To have created technology that can potentially transform the lives of poor people who don't have access to, or cannot afford electricity, is an exciting prospect,” he said in the press release. “I hope this will enable those in need to enjoy a better quality of life as a result of our research.”
The full report is published in the journal Electrochimica Acta.