A prototype electricity generator using urine to power microbial fuel cells is being tested in a bar at University of the West of England (UWE).
A partnership between UWE and Oxfam, the technology was designed with charitable purposes in mind and will be trialled to light toilets in refugee camps.
“We have already proved that this way of generating electricity works,” said Professor Ioannis Ieropoulos who leads a research group at the Bristol BioEnergy Centre, which in 2013 successfully demonstrated that microbial fuel cell stacks could be used to power mobile phones.
"The microbial fuel cells (MFC) work by employing live microbes which feed on urine (fuel) for their own growth and maintenance. The MFC is in effect a system which taps a portion of that biochemical energy used for microbial growth, and converts that directly into electricity - what we are calling urine-tricity or pee power.”
Perfectly emission free and renewable, the technology offers a cost-effective solution for developing countries. One microbial fuel cell costs about £1 to make and the whole demonstration unit was produced for as little as £600, Professor Ieropoulos estimated. Moreover, there are no known limits for the life-span of the technology.
“Oxfam is an expert in providing sanitation in disaster zones, and it is always a challenge to light inaccessible areas far from power supply,” said Andy Bastable, Head of Water and Sanitation at Oxfam. “This technology is a huge step forward. Living in a refugee camp is hard enough without the added threat of being assaulted in dark places at night. The potential of this invention is huge.”
Students and staff at the University of the West of England in Bristol are encouraged to participate in the technology trial and use the urinal to donate pee to power indoor lighting.
The urinal on the University campus resembles toilets used by Oxfam in refugee camps to make the trial as realistic as possible. The technology that converts the urine into power sits underneath the urinal and can be viewed through a clear screen.