Pee-Powered Batteries to Bring Cheap Energy to Developing Countries

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Researchers at the University of Bath have developed a miniature microbial fuel cell (MFC) that uses urine to generate electricity, making it a cheap, renewable, and carbon-neutral energy source—something that would be of particular benefit to areas of the world where energy is scarce or inaccessible.

That’s right, folks. A pee pee-powered battery.

“In the face of the growing problem of fossil fuel depletion, there is global interest in developing sustainable and environmentally friendly forms of energy. One form of alternative energy that may be viable in addressing this problem is bioenergy,” the study says.

MFCs utilize bacteria to perform reduction/oxidation reactions in organic material. When the reaction occurs, electrons are exchanged between molecules. Electricity is generated when the reaction takes place in a closed system with an anode and cathode.

Bath University’s Department of Chemical Engineering, Department of Chemistry, and Centre for Sustainable Chemical Technologies (CSCT) teamed up with the Queen Mary University of London and Bristol Bioenergy Centre to successfully design a 3D-printed, one inch-squared fuel cell that utilizes a carbon catalyst at the cathode, derived from glucose and ovalbumin (think: the protein in egg whites).

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MFCs used in this study; A: Photograph of MFC_S; B: Photograph of MFC_L; C: Schematic layout of the device. (Credit: Electrochimica Acta)

Currently, one pee pee fuel cell will generate 2 W per cubic meter—enough to power a small device, such as a mobile phone. Researchers found that upping the cell’s electrodes from 4 mm to 8 mm, however, will increase the power output by ten times—as will stacking three units together.

While this might not seem like much, the fuel source is cheap (we literally flush it away), and the process doesn’t produce gasses that could potentially harm the environment.

“Microbial fuel cells could be a great source of energy in developing countries, particularly in impoverished and rural areas,” lead author and CSCT PhD student Jon Chouler said. “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. I hope this will enable those in need to enjoy a better quality of life as a result of our research.”

While pee-powered batteries are nothing new, the size and price tag (under $3 each) of this particular MCF make it well worth the investment.


Henry Sapiecha



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