Move over solar power–the homes of the future could be fuelled by pee power, thanks to a new waste-based invention.
A team of researchers in Bristol have developed a new clean energy fuel cell that can convert human waste into electricity, and want to use it to power entire households someday.
The 'pee power' project was first trialled publicly at Glastonbury festival two years ago, where scientists proved toilets can generate a steady trickle of electricity. So far, it's been used to power mobile phones, lightbulbs, and robots. Now, they're moving onto houses.
"The flow of urine from people coming into the urinal over five days at the festival enabled us to generate 300 watt-hours of electricity," explains Dr Ioannis Ieropoulos, the director of Bristol BioEnergy Centre.
Dr Ieropoulos told the Daily Star: "To put that in perspective, I could power a single one-watt lightbulb for 300 hours, or 10 lightbulbs for 30 hours."
The invention is based on something called microbial fuel cells. These battery-like blocks are filled with a colony of tiny living creatures called microbes.
To grow, the microbes feed on organic matter, which can be anything from grass to toenail clippings.
The microbes break down the matter into its chemical parts and, as they multiply, generate tiny amounts of electricity – as well as clean wastewater which can be used as fertiliser for the garden.
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The technology was developed when Ioannis and the team built a robot that could eat rotten plums and dead flies. After proving that organic waste could power the robot's battery, the team turned their energies to human waste.
As their work continues, the team wants to shrink down the fuel cells and put them into bricks small enough to fit into the walls of houses.
The idea is that houses of the future will be built out of these bricks, enabling the walls of your home to turn pee into power.
This will become possible as the scientists 'miniaturise' the fuel cells, which will enable them to multiply the amount of pee that can be used to power USB sockets, TVs, and even dishwashers.
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The hope is that urine could eventually help power an entire household. An average human produces anything between two and two-and-a-half litres of 'liquid excreta' per day, which means plenty of pee power for the whole family.
"If it's a household of five, for example, then that's between 10 and 12 litres of urine," Ieropoulos says.
"That's sufficient for a scaled microbial fuel cell system to continuously provide electricity."
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He adds: "It uses the same household wastewater which is produced on a daily basis. Right now, it ends up going down the drain and has to be treated by a water company. But we're doing treatment on-site and it results in really useful amounts of electricity."
Eventually, pee power could be combined with solar panels and wind turbines to provide totally renewable energy. Tackling climate change could become as easy as using the loo–but chaps, just make sure to work on your aim.
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