The BioEnergy team from Bristol’s University of the West England(UWE), headed by professor Ionassis Ieropoulous, is known for experimenting with creating electrical power from unusual resources. In 2013, they created quite a stir, when they presented a mobile phone, powered by pee. With the support of Oxfam, they are now working on a large-scale “Urine-tricity” project, seeking to bring light to areas of humanitarian crisis.
The energy-generating urinals are based on the technology of microbial fuel cells (MFC). The technology allows us to convert organic waste directly into electricity. The microbial fuel cells are charged simply by having the urinals collect the pee, and then feed it to microbes that consumes urine to grow. The fuel cells tap into the biochemical energy created by this process and convert it into electricity. "This technology is about as green as it gets, as we do not need to utilise fossil fuels and we are effectively using a waste product that will be in plentiful supply”, says professor Ieropoulous.
A trial urinal was established near the bar at UWE, where students and employees successfully put it to the test. And it worked! In fact, the electricity generated was enough to light four LED bulbs!
Professor Ieropoulous explains how the technology works:
Both the scientists and Oxfam agree that such urinals are a cheap and sustainable way to generate electricity on a small scale - for example, for the toilet cubicles.
Lacking any form of lighting, bathroom cubicles in the refugee camps tend to become criminal epicentres. According to Oxfam's team leader of humanitarian coordinators, Richard Simpson, female refugees can rarely use them without a risk of being assaulted. The “Pee power” project would make it safer to use the lavatories and possibly help to reduce the crime rate in refugee camps.
Oxfam is hoping to equip the first of its refugee camps with energy-generating toilets as early as autumn 2015.