The Sustainability Problem:
The more we learn about the negative effects of fossil fuels, the more the world is looking to alternative and renewable sources of energy. New technology has been explored to create energy from various waste streams for many years now. Focus is on looking at waste readily available in particular locales and finding new uses for them, including energy generation.
The Technology Solution:
A new technology has figured out a way to create energy from human urine through the process of bacteria metabolism. By designing special urinals to capture the urine and introduce the bacteria, they are able to harness the energy. The Science News article explains the technology this way:
“The technology in the prototype is based on microbial fuel cells (MFC), which, like batteries, has an anode and a cathode,” explains Irene Merino, who is a researcher on the team thanks to a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and works alongside another Spanish worker, Daniel Sánchez.
The cells are installed inside a container which collects the urine, currently only from male users due to the design of the urinals. Inside, bacteria colonise the anode electrode and act as a catalyst, decomposing the organic material in the pee.
This decomposition releases both protons, which travel from the anode to the cathode across a semipermeable membrane, and electrons, which travel through an external electrical circuit. To complete the cycle, an oxygen reduction reaction also takes place in the cathode. The process generates enough energy to power light bulbs or LED tubes.
- Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (funding the research grant)
- University of the West of England and the Spanish researchers (research university)
- Urinal makers who will mass produce the technology
- Glastonbury festival workers and attendees (where the prototypes are being tested)
- Refugee camp workers and residents (where the tested prototypes will be installed for further testing)
- Develop a set of prototypes to test at the Glastonbury festival to test mass use of the technology
- Take learnings from the test at Glastonbury and create further improvements to the urinals
- Deploy improved urinals in one refugee camp test site for a second testing of the new prototype
- Create further improvements until the technology is ready to be deployed in a larger scale
- Submit reports to Bill and Melinda Gates foundation to identify successes, possibly secure extra funding for next phase of the project