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Unending Supply: charge a cellphone with urine

Posting in Energy

For people who need a source of battery power that is both cheap and abundant...

In 2011, researchers from the Bristol Robotics Laboratory demonstrated that urine can be a viable fuel. Science explains:

As it cascades through a series of fuel cells, hungry bacteria consume it and release electrons, which generate an electrical current.

Now, the team reports that these energy-converting microbial fuel cells (MFCs) have successfully used urine to directly power a cellphone battery.

"One product that we can be sure of an unending supply is our own urine," BRL's Ioannis Ieropoulos said in a news release. "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 re-using waste to create energy."

After a full day of charging, a Samsung cellphone worked for 25 minutes -- enough to send several texts and make a 6-minute, 20-second call.

With each fuel cell only costing around £1 to produce, the Independent reports, such devices could provide a new, cheaper way of generating power.

The team hopes the device will help people in remote areas stay connected. Perhaps in the future, it can be installed in bathrooms and produce sufficient electricity to power razors and lights. They're also aiming to have something that can be carried around easily.

The research was sponsored in part by the Gates Foundation, and the team is currently bidding for funding to work alongside partners in the U.S. and South Africa to develop a smart toilet.

The work was published in Physical Chemistry Chemical Physics last week.

[BRL news release via ScienceNOW]

Image: bigbirdz via Flickr

— By on July 23, 2013, 5:36 AM PST

Janet Fang

Contributing Editor

Janet Fang has written for Nature, Discover and the Point Reyes Light. She is currently a lab technician at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. She holds degrees from the University of California, Berkeley and Columbia University. She is based in New York. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure