Urine as a Source of Power

Can urine be used to produce energy without causing pollution? The team of researchers from Bristol certainly feels this is possible and is a sustainable project for the future.

Current Energy Sources - Fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas are the main sources of energy we have today. However, these sources are polluting and it will not be long before we have exhausted them. Scientists are therefore on the lookout for newer sources of energy especially those that are non-polluting and renewable. One of the relatively new forms of energy is nuclear energy. It is produced from uranium and needs very little fuel to produce large amounts of energy. However, it needs to be used with all necessary precautions and the waste has to be safely disposed. Like fossil fuels, uranium stores could get exhausted. Among the renewable forms of energy, solar energy is very promising. The energy from the sun is trapped by solar cells and converted into electricity. Solar energy can be used in various ways - from garden lights to satellites. Wind energy has been used over the years through windmills. Unfortunately, wind is not always predictable. Tidal and wave power has also been explored. Water can also generate power through hydroelectric power stations set up in dams. Heat from volcanic areas and organic materials are other sources of energy.

Urine as a source of power for autonomous robots
Researchers at the Bristol Robotics Lab, a collaborative UWE/University of Bristol research facility have spent more than 3 years in developing a robot whom they named EcoBot-III. This robot contains a number of microbial fuel cells and uses waste material such as dead flies and wastewater to power it.
The researchers at the same laboratory have now received a grant for a project that will focus on three major areas - creating stacks of microbial fuel cells, self sustaining cathodes and using urine as a source of fuel. Dr Ioannis Ieropoulos, Professor John Greenman and Professor Chris Melhuish will be carrying out the research along with the technical team at the laboratory.
However, the most interesting part of their project would be the use of urine as a source of fuel. Dr Ieropoulos explains that since urine is chemically very active, rich in nitrogen and contains urea, chloride, potassium and bilirubin, it will be a very good fuel for microbial fuel cells. The researchers are planning to collaborate with a waterless urinal company for the project.
The researchers also aim at making the microbial fuel cell self-sustaining. Instead of chemicals on the cathode side that are used at present, they propose to use oxygen-producing organisms (such as algae). The waste from the algae can be used to feed the bacteria on the anode side. Dr. Ieropoulos hopes that this research will help change the way people think about energy and human waste.
Besides multitude application on very useful area of utilization of this energy source would be in space travel.
"The author wishes to thank Dr Ioannis Ieropoulos for his inputs to Medindia in providing clarity with regards to his research."

Ref 1 - Urine: Waste product or future power source? ScienceDaily. 
Ref 2: University of the West of England (2010, July 28).

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