Urine fuel cell gets more power with new design

16 March 2016
By Tereza Pultarova
Mobile version
Share |
A new design of a microbial fuel cell is a major step forward for urine power

A new design of a microbial fuel cell is a major step forward for urine power

A more efficient but also cheaper type of microbial fuel cell that can use urine for fuel to generate electricity has been developed by British researchers.

The new fuel cell, developed by researchers from the University of Bath, Queen Mary University of London and the Bristol Robotics Laboratory, is smaller than earlier devices and more suitable for practical use as it overcomes two major problems of this type of fuel cell – that is their high cost and low power production.

"Microbial fuel cells have real potential to produce renewable bioenergy out of waste matter like urine," said Mirella Di Lorenzo, a member of the University of Bath team. "The world produces huge volumes of urine and if we can harness the potential power of that waste using microbial fuel cells, we could revolutionise the way we make electricity."

To make the fuel cell produce more electricity, the researchers concocted a new type of catalyst made of substances commonly found in food waste – namely glucose and the egg-white protein ovalbumin. Instead of expensive cathode materials employed in earlier designs, the new cell uses cheap carbon cloth and titanium wire.

The researchers carried out a series of experiments to see how the length of electrodes would affect efficiency and found that increasing the length from four to eight millimetres results in ten times more power being generated. A further ten-fold improvement was achieved by stacking up three of the miniature microbial fuel cells.

"Microbial fuel cells could be a great source of energy in developing countries, particularly in impoverished and rural areas," said Jon Chouler, lead author of the study from the University of Bath. "Our new design is cheaper and more powerful than traditional models.”

Microbial fuel cells have certain advantages over other ways of producing bioenergy as they can operate at room temperature and regular air pressure. They are also relatively cheap to operate and produce less waste than other methods. However, large-scale adoption of the technology has been hindered by the high cost of some components. Previously, the cathode used to contain expensive platinum to speed up the electricity-generating bacterial processes. The new design doesn’t require any platinum.

Compared with other methods of bioenergy production, such as anaerobic digestion, fermentation and gasification, previous types of fuel cells were also much less efficient.

Latest Issue

E&T cover image 1606

"Where would Frankenstein and his creative mind fit into today's workplace? Should we fear technological developments or embrace them?"

E&T jobs

  • Design Engineers and Safety Engineers

    Babcock
    • South West England
    • Competitive

    Exciting opportunities have arisen within as we expand to meet the growing demands of the UK Submarine Programme.

    • Recruiter: Babcock

    Apply for this job

  • Principal Consultant

    EA Technology
    • Capenhurst
    • Up to £60k DOE + company bonus, generous pension scheme & benefits package

    EA Technology are recruiting for Experienced Consultants to deliver a broad portfolio of projects within our Smart Interventions Division.

    • Recruiter: EA Technology

    Apply for this job

  • Senior Consultant

    EA Technology
    • Capenhurst
    • Up to £45k DOE + company bonus, generous pension scheme & benefits package

    EA Technology are recruiting for Experienced Consultants to deliver a broad portfolio of projects within our Smart Interventions Division

    • Recruiter: EA Technology

    Apply for this job

  • Mid-Level Electrical Engineer

    Max Fordham LLP
    • London

    We are looking for an electrical engineer with around 4- 6 years of design experience to join and work with an able and talented group of engineers..

    • Recruiter: Max Fordham LLP

    Apply for this job

  • Electrical Training Officer / NVQ 3 Assessor

    Premium job

    JTL
    • Norwich, Norfolk
    • Competitive + Pension + Personal BUPA cover

    As a Qualified Electrician, you know what it takes to complete electrical work to exceptional standards of safety and quality.

    • Recruiter: JTL

    Apply for this job

  • Electrical Training Officer / NVQ 3 Assessor

    Premium job

    JTL
    • Dorchester, Poole or Bournemouth
    • Circa £29,000

    As a Qualified Electrician, you know what it takes to complete electrical work to exceptional standards of safety and quality.

    • Recruiter: JTL

    Apply for this job

  • Electrical Training Officer / NVQ 3 Assessor

    Premium job

    JTL
    • London
    • Competitive + Pension + Personal BUPA cover

    As a Qualified Electrician, you know what it takes to complete electrical work to exceptional standards of safety and quality.

    • Recruiter: JTL

    Apply for this job

  • Project Manager - Eastern Region

    Defence Infrastructure Organisation
    • Woolwich, London
    • £24,362 (plus car, +10% supervisory allowance)

    Opportunity to be at the heart of what SSG will be delivering to its wide and varied client base.

    • Recruiter: Defence Infrastructure Organisation

    Apply for this job

  • Project Manager - South West

    Defence Infrastructure Organisation
    • Shrivenham, Swindon
    • £24,362 (plus car, +10% supervisory allowance)

    The Project Manager would be responsible for remedial and small/medium new project works across the Southwest of England

    • Recruiter: Defence Infrastructure Organisation

    Apply for this job

  • Nuclear Facilities Governance Manager

    BAE Systems
    • England, Cumbria, Barrow-In-Furness
    • Negotiable

    Nuclear Facilities Governance Manager Would you like to be accountable for all the Nuclear Governance for both existing day to day facilities on the Barrow Site in addition to the Proposed Facilities development which is part of the multi-million pound si

    • Recruiter: BAE Systems

    Apply for this job

More jobs ▶

Subscribe

Choose the way you would like to access the latest news and developments in your field.

Subscribe to E&T