Urine-powered mobile phones could soon be in the shops

British scientists have developed a new way to charge electrical appliances using urine and poo

Bristol University researchers say the the potential for this technology around the world could be unlimited (Pic: UWE)

By Nilima Choudhury

Scientists from the University of West England in Bristol have developed an innovative way to charge electrical appliances including a mobile phone, with urine and even poo.

They have developed a “biological battery” where the microbial fuel cell (MFC), converts human waste and soil into electricity, via the metabolism of live microorganisms.

“Essentially, the electricity is a by-product of the microbes’ natural life cycle, so the more they eat things like urine, the more energy they generate and for longer periods of time,” Dr Ioannis Ieropoulos, an expert at harnessing power from unusual sources using MFC, told RTCC.

He said his team started out using sewage from the local treatment plant.

“Playing with waste water for so long it was only natural we started to play with urine,” said Dr Ieropoulos.

“In the US and we’ve been asked the question of can you deal with faeces – so far we’ve been dealing with urine but we understand there’s going to be a point where we have to test a mixed waste stream”.

Last year, four girls exhibited a urine-powered generator where one litre of urine provided six hours of electricity at Maker Faire Africa, a pan-African gathering of manufacturers and inventors, in Lagos.

The project has been funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), the Gates Foundation and the Technology Strategy Board.

Bringing to market

“For the developing world this is something we’re aiming to have in two to three years’ time,” said Dr Ieropoulos.

He expects to use locally-sourced material in order to keep costs down for customers.

Although the charging unit has only been tested on a Samsung mobile phone, Dr Ieropoulos said in time, the technology could be used in conjunction with other models, especially as manufacturers are always working to reduce power requirements.

“This [experiment] would not have been possible four or five years ago when phone batteries were hungrier – so the electronics industry is cutting back on its power requirement and this is a god send as far as we’re concerned because we’re trying to meet those requirements.”

VIDEO: Mobile phone runs on urine power 


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