Urine To Power Your Phone


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Researchers at the University of the West of England have devised a charger that allows urine to power your phone. This was accomplished by developing a microbial fuel cell (MFC) that converts organic matter into electricity. This has topped even Madonna, who declared on David Letterman’s Late Show that she urinates on her feet to alleviate athlete’s foot.

The MFCs contain bacteria specially-grown on carbon fibre anodes and already used in waste water treatment plants that break down the sugar and other chemicals in urine, producing electrons as they go. A flow of electrons is, of course, electricity, which is stored in a capacitor. This charger was first tested on a run-of-the-mill Samsung phone. The amount of electricity thus produced is wee, as they say in Scotland, and only sufficient for a single call: around a tenth of a gallon equates to a six minute call. It is, however, hoped that if the contraption is installed in domestic toilets, more electricity will be generated. This breakthrough was first presented in the Royal Society of Chemistry Journal, Physical Chemistry Chemical Physics.

The device is around the size of a car battery, but the researchers wish it to be easily portable, so future versions will be smaller. Since an MFC costs only about USD1.51/GBP1/EUR1.15 to produce, the potential is great and accessible to developing countries, where remote regions will particularly welcome it. Engineer, Dr Ioannis Ieropoulos of the Bristol Robotics Laboratory that created the peephone, said, “No one has harnessed power from urine to do this so it’s an exciting discovery.” He added that this trumped wind or solar power as the source was reliable, what with people going wee between six and eight times a day. Pee was great, said he, as it’s chemically very active, rich in nitrogen and contains compounds such as bilirubin, chlorine, potassium and urea. He described the process as “a world first” and “about as eco as it gets.”

The research was funded by public money and the Gates Foundation. The next step is to build MFCs that are capable of fully charging a battery. Funding from US and South African partners is being sought.

Professor Will Stewart of the Institution of Engineering and Technology pissed on the new invention by commenting that a solar panel the size of a paperback could charge a phone in two or three hours.

About the Author Timothy Chilman

Timothy Chilman used to work in IT. Once, in Sydney, he was turned down for a job because he was “too flamboyant” (“Someone who wears green tartan suspenders to a job interview probably isn’t going to fit in here”). Timothy then became an English teacher. University students in Bangkok complained that he was “too enthusiastic” and company students in Prague complained that he was “too theatrical.”

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