A group of scientists at Bristol Robotics Laboratory in the United Kingdom have managed to create a new power source for a mobile phone – urine. While not exactly the most practical or hygienic way to keep your iPhone or Samsung smartphone running, it is part of a project to produce electricity for small devices, in emergency situations.
Say you are stuck in the woods, in an unknown location. You get trapped. Your mobile phone battery runs out. You can't very well just pop your charger into the nearest rock, so simply use your urine to get the phone operational and make that emergency call.
The scientists are using a microbial fuel cell that converts organic matter directly into electricity. Inside the MFCX is a mixture of anaerobic micro organisms that release electrons as they feed – in this instance, on the urine.
The technology behind this has been under development for 30 years but there have been many problems to overcome during that time period, including getting enough power out of it.
The scientists in Bristol used 12 ceramic cylinders 10.2 cm long and they were wired with an anode and a cathode. These were then stacked into groups of three, with each stack acting as a cascade.
Urine was then introduced into the first cylinder of each stack and as the organisms fed on it, they generated electricity. This was then repeated in the second and third cyclinder before the urine was collected in a flask. To help produce more power, four cascades were connected in unison like batteries. The subsequent current was enough to charge a mobile phone battery.
Doctor Ioannis Ieropoulos from the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol) said “We are very excited as this is a world first, no one has harnessed power from urine to do this so it's an exciting discovery. Using the ultimate waste product as a source of power to produce electricity is about as eco as it gets.
“By harnessing this power as urine passes through a cascade of microbial fuel cells, we have managed to charge a Samsung mobile phone. The beauty of this fuel source is that we are not relying on the erratic nature of the wind or the sun; we are actually reusing waste to create energy.”
“So far the microbial fuel power stack that we have developed generates enough power to enable SMS messaging, web browsing and to make a brief phone call. Making a call on a mobile phone takes up the most energy but we will get to the place where we can charge a battery for longer periods. The concept has been tested and it works – it's now for us to develop and refine the process so that we can develop MFCs to fully charge a battery.”
While the use of urine will be seen as a little unhygienic, it is an inexhaustible resource that will always be available.
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