Have you been flushing the next renewable energy breakthrough down the drain?
Researchers at a British University are developing a system that could use urine to create energy via new, low-cost fuel cells. If successful, their idea could represent yet another alternative to dirty fossil fuels and expensive hydrogen or methanol fuel cells.
The Carbamide Power System involves far cheaper membrane and catalysts, and can be run on urea (also known as carbamide), a mass manufactured industrial fertilizer and a major component of human and animal urine.
Dr. Shanwen Tao of Heriot-Watt University and his research partner Dr. Rong Lan have been awarded over $200,000 in the form of an EPSRC grant to develop a prototype from their idea.
"Full cells are electrochemical devices which convert chemical energy into electricity with heat generated as a by-product, via an electrochemical process that does not require combustion" (Heriot-Watt).
Although fuel cells are one of the most powerful ways to generate clean energy, they have received only minimal attention from the auto and shipping industries because they are expensive and extremely flammable, prohibiting transportation.
As long as the world's fresh water supply holds out, there would be no shortage of raw material for these urea-powered fuel cells, and countries with booming populations would suddenly find themselves at the top of the energy game.
The meat industry, which contaminates millions of miles of streams and rivers every year when animal urine escapes from holding tanks and seeps down into the water table, would also find itself with a more profitable reason to control its waste.
"We are only at prototype stage at present, but if this renewable material can be used as a commercially viable and environmentally friendly energy source then we will be absolutely delighted, and many people around the world will benefit" said Dr. Tao.
Image Credit: Heriot-Watt University