The above image of a statue of a little boy urinating into a fountain – the Manneken Pis – is arguably the most well-known landmark in Brussels. The statue, built in the early 1600s, is thought by some to honour a young ruler who was known for urinating on troops.
Well it now seems that this fluid is to be proposed as a source of energy for cars! No, this is not a joke.
This could literally be called pee power to the people-researchers have figured out a way to make the world’s first urine-powered fuel cells.
Two post doctorate students, Shanwen Tao and Rong Lan at the Heriot-Watt University School of Engineering and Physical Sciences in Edinburgh are turning urine into electricity and clean water with a prototype fuel cell system. While fuel cells usually rely on flammable hydrogen gas or toxic methanol to generate electricity, Tao and Lan’s cheaper prototype relies instead on urea, an organic chemical compound produced as waste when the body metabolizes protein. Urea, also called “carbamide,” has several advantages as a potential fuel source-it’s abundant, non-toxic, relatively straightforward to transport and rich in nitrogen.
According to the university, Tao thought about incorporating urea because he had seen it used as a fertilizer while growing up in eastern China – or less politely, people peeing onto the compost heap!
The Carbamide Power System prototype can break urea or urine from humans or animals down into water, nitrogen and CO2, and also produce electricity at the same time. Unlike existing fuel cells that require catalysts made from precious metals like platinum, the researcher’s prototype uses a cheaper catalyst and less expensive membranes. A grant from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council is helping the team develop the technology. The two are planning to have a demonstration system ready next year.
British Gazette comment: Pee powered cars. Oh dear. It won’t be a problem for us blokes to refuel the car but what about the ladies? And then of course there is the road fuel duty. Are we going to have to pay road fuel duty every time we pee?