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Scientists working at England’s Bristol Robotics Laboratory have developed a technique for converting urine into electrons, enough to power a cell phone.

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Dr. Ioannis Ieropoulus of the the Bristol Robotics Lab explains how mircrobial fuel cells, pictured at right, turn urine into electricity.

The research team has developed microbial fuel cells that consume carbohydrates, nitrogen, potassium, phosphorous, and other compounds that would otherwise go down the drain. If you can get past the gross-out factor, the benefits to places in the developing world and elsewhere that lack reliable (or affordable) sources of electricity are obvious.

The project reminds me of another one showcased at Maker Faire Africa last year: a urine-powered generator.

There’s an added benefit of the microbial fuel cell technology, too. According to researchers, passing the urine through the fuel cells “cleans” it so it can be safely discharged into the environment, eliminating the need for wastewater treatment. Maybe sewage plants could double as power plants. Pee pee becomes a win-win.

If the output of the fuel cells could be expanded, what applications can you imagine for this technology?

Stett Holbrook

Stett Holbrook is editor of the Bohemian, an alternative weekly in Santa Rosa, California. He is a former senior editor at Maker Media.

He is also the co-creator of Food Forward, a documentary TV series for PBS about the innovators and pioneers changing our food system.


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