Is a Urine-Powered Fuel Cell Car in Your Future?
Seven billion people walking the planet generate 10.5 billion liters of urine every day -- enough to fill 4,200 Olympic swimming pools -- and Korean researchers say we can use it to power a fuel cell, and soon our cars, according to a study published in the science journal Nature. The study comes from Jong-Sung Yu and several other scientists at Korea University, who argue that carbon atoms isolated from human urine offer a cheaper alternative to the platinum catalyst used inside fuel cells. PHOTOS: Full Galleries of GM's AUTOnomoy Fuel Cell Concept Fuel cells have the capability to convert chemical energy into electricity by combining hydrogen and oxygen together in order to kick off a chemical reaction. The fuel cell consists of an anode, a cathode and an electrolyte which allows charges to move between the two sides of the fuel cell. The cell produces electricity when electrons are drawn from the anode to the cathode through an external circuit. The reason fuel cells haven't been more prevalent to this point is the expense in building them, thanks to the use of a platinum catalyst. The catalyst is extremely expensive, and it's prevented fuel cells from being developed on a wide scale.
The paper from Jong-Sung Yu at Korea University shows that "highly porous carbon-containing heteroatoms such as nickel, sulphur, silicon and phosphorus" could be extracted from the 10.5 billion gallons of human urine flushed away every single day.
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As a side benefit, if the technology is widely adopted, it would also provide an environmental benefit by treating urine as a resource, rather than a waste product.
Similarly, British scientists at the Bristol Robotics Laboratory are conducting a similar project funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which has focused on the basics of food, water, shelter, and sanitation as a means of helping hundreds of millions of people lift themselves out of poverty and build better lives.
The scientists from Bristol Robotics Laboratory have already powered a mobile phone by using urine to feed microbial fuel cells, to create an electric current when connected to a cathode. Watch the video to see how:
The funding from the Gates Foundation has led to the quest to develop a toilet that can provide both sanitation, as well as electricity in remote, or economically disadvantaged areas.
Image Source: Nature.com