New urine-powered fuel cells hope to ‘slash’ costs

July 28, 2010 | by | 0 Comments

Boffins yesterday unveiled a new project aimed at slashing energy costs by creating a new fuel cell powered by – URINE.

It is hoped that Microbial Fuel Cells (MFCs), which use bacterial cultures to break down ‘food’ to create power, can be powered by human waste.

Researchers at the Bristol Robotics Lab have spent three-and-a-half years developing EcoBot-III – a robot which can power itself by digesting waste.

Now they hope that, unlike traditional fuel cells, which use hydrogen as their fuel, these microbial fuel cells will guzzle on human waste.

Yesterday, the Bristol Robotics Lab were awarded a £564,561 grant to investigate whether urine can be used to generate the energy.

Dr Ioannis Ieropoulos, who has led the research, said: ”Over the years we have fed our MFCs with rotten fruit, grass clippings, prawn shells and dead flies in an attempt to investigate different waste materials to use as a ‘food source’ for the Microbial Fuel Cells.

”We have focused on finding the best waste materials that create the most energy.

”Urine is chemically very active, rich in nitrogen and has compounds such as urea, chloride, potassium and bilirubin, which make it very good for the microbial fuel cells.

”We have already done preliminary tests which show it being a waste material that is very effective.

”Although it is early days for this research, we hope to work towards producing a prototype portable urinal which would use urine to create power from fuel cells.

”We envisage that this could be used for example at music festivals and other outdoor events.”

Dr Ieropoulos will also work alongside Professor John Greenman and Professor Chris Melhuish, to create a new generation of super-powered MFC’s.

It is hoped that they will eventually be combined to produce a ‘stack effect’, whereby they can be used to more energy than ever before.

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