Researchers at two British universities have successfully powered a cellphone using urine.
The project involves microbial fuel cells, which are ceramic cylinders filled with bacteria. As the bacteria eats fuel supplies, it creates a small electrical charge as a by-product.
The technique works with micro-organisms that would normally, where oxygen is present, produce water as part of fuel consumption. Carrying out the process in an anaerobic set-up means they instead produce simple protons and electrons, which can be harnessed to create the charge.
The “purest” form of the technique uses fuel sources such as simple sugars like glucose. However, researchers at the Bristol Robotics Laboratory (a collaboration of the University of Bristol and University of the West of England) have now experimented with using human urine.
Dr Ioannis Ieropoulos says the team have successfully charged a Samsung cellphone. “So far the microbial fuel power stack that we have developed generates enough power to enable SMS messaging, web browsing and to make a brief phone call. ”
He noted that with the concept itself now shown to work, the next step is to refine the process to produce a complete charge of a battery. One big limitation at the moment is that the harnessing process means the charge last for a much shorter time than usual.
In the long-run, the idea is to develop a “smart toilet” that could use urine to power bathroom devices such as lighting, electric shavers or even a power shower. (There’s no word yet on whether it’ll be possible for those dirty folk who pee in the shower to create a self-sustaining cycle.)
(Image credit: University of West England)