Imagine a cheap and plentiful resource that could one day fuel our cars and clean up wastewater at the same time. Dr. Gerardine Botte, Director of the Electrochemical Engineering Research Library (EERL) at Ohio University, has developed a cost-effective method that produces cheap hydrogen from urine.
Dr. Botte and a team of researchers have developed an inexpensive nickel-based electrode device that produces hydrogen from urine.
Until now, producing, storing and transporting hydrogen has been a costly process. Urea, a major component of urine, contains four hydrogen atoms per molecule, which are bonded to two atoms of nitrogen. The new technology uses electrolysis to break down the molecule using 0.37 volts which is applied across the cell. In comparison, extracting hydrogen from water uses large amounts of electricity; specifically, 1.23V is needed to split H20 molecules. Botte’s method uses less energy than it takes to extract hydrogen from water. Simply put: by placing the inexpensive electrode into urine and applying current, hydrogen is released.
Tests were performed using both synthetic urine, made from dissolved urea, and human urine. The device is also small enough to be used in vehicles. Botte estimates a fuel cell urine-powered vehicle could potentially travel up to 90 miles per gallon. The current prototype, which measures about 3 x 3 x 1 inches, can produce up to 500 milliwatts of power. The team is working on creating larger scale versions of the electrolyzer.
The report was published in the Royal Society of Chemistry ChemComm.
Using urine for power is not new. In 2007, a Japanese company, Aqua Power System, developed a unique line of rechargeable batteries. Injecting water, beer, saliva or urine into the battery chamber using the included pipette, recharges the Non Pollution Power batteries. The batteries, also called NoPoPo, do not contain harmful mercury or lead, can power a flashlight for about 20 hours and can be stored up to 10 years.
"Pee power" may one day prove to be an inexpensive and readily available alternative source of fuel.
For more information, read: Bryan K. Boggs, Rebecca L. King and Gerardine G. Botte. “Urea electrolysis: direct hydrogen production from urine.” Royal Society of Chemistry journal Chemical Communications 2009.
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