Researchers from two British universities have managed to charge a Samsung phone using human urine, unlocking the potential for the ultimate recycling technology.
Using urine in a cascade of innovative microbial fuel cells, the team has managed to generate enough electricity to send text messages, browse the Internet and make brief phone calls. Now it wants to focus on developing a fully-fledged urine charger for conventional handheld mobile phones.
"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," said Ioannis Ieropoulos from the University of West of England who has cooperated on the project with a team from the University of Bristol.
"Using the ultimate waste product as a source of power to produce electricity is about as 'eco' as it gets,” he said, emphasising that human urine is a type of resource humankind will always have at hand.
"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.”
The microbial fuel cell developed by the team is an energy converter, which turns organic matter directly into electricity using the metabolism of urine-eating microorganisms. The more urine the microorganisms consume, the more energy they produce.
"The concept has been tested and it works; it's now for us to develop and refine the process so that we can develop microbial fuel cells to fully charge a battery," Ieropoulos said.
So far, the microbial fuel cells energy output has been so small the scientists had to use capacitors or super-capacitors to be able to store and accumulate it. However, Ieropoulos believes the technology has the future potential to be installed into domestic bathrooms to harness the urine and produce sufficient electricity to power showers, lighting or razors as well as mobile phones.
The project has been funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, the Gates Foundation and the Technology Strategy Board.
"We are currently bidding for funding to work alongside partners in the US and South Africa to develop a smart toilet," Ieropoulos concluded.