Peeing on your phone
July 20, 2013

Peeing On Your Phone

Sometimes you hear ideas that you’re pretty sure were dreamed up during a night of drinking. There’s nothing wrong with this, of course. Drinking can either trigger something in your brain, lessen your inhibitions to try big things, or allow your mind to wander onto other ideas.

Clearly, the researchers from the University of Bristol who came up with a way to charge your mobile phone with the natural power of liquid sunshine (urine) had imbibed quite a few warm lagers when inspiration struck.

Why do I say they must’ve been drinking?

To quote engineer Ioannis Ieropoulos, “One product that we can be sure of an unending supply is our own urine.”

I’ll allow you to connect the dots.

Ieropoulos and team from the University of Bristol and Bristol Robotics Laboratory say they’ve crafted a fuel cell that employs bacteria to break down urine. Just like the byproduct of yeast eating sugar and farting alcohol in beer, the byproduct of bacteria munching down on pee is electricity.

“The beauty of this fuel source is that we are not relying on the erratic nature of the wind or the sun; we are actually reusing waste to create energy,” said Ieropoulos in a statement.

A team of researchers, politely British or no, must build a prototype of something so outrageous sounding, and build one they did.

The team began by growing bacteria on some carbon fiber anodes before placing them in ceramic cylinders. When they passed urine through these tubes, the bacteria quickly began eating up the chloride, sodium and potassium in the pee. This reaction built up a small electrical charge, which was then stored on a capacitor.

As it’s still in prototype mode, the wizz-bang of a battery is still quite large, about the size of a car battery, and it’s not entirely powerful yet.

“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,” explained Ieropoulos.

“Making a call on a mobile phone takes up the most energy but we will get to the place where we can charge a battery for longer periods.”

The team says they plan to continue refining the design until they can produce a battery powerful enough to handle a phone call and small enough to be carried around in your pocket.

In addition to making a smaller battery, the team says they hope to work with partners in South Africa and the US to develop a smart toilet as a way capture energy directly from the source.

There’s no word yet on how you’ll be able to get the urine into a small, pocketable phone charger however.

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