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We all create waste as a result of our natural body functions, but while most people just flush and forget, there are some researchers who are determined to find a use for our excrement. BBC reports that researchers from the University of the West of England have created compact power stations which can turn urine into power:
The fuel cells are already unique in that they contain bacteria — bacteria normally found growing on the metal underside of ships and oil-rigs in the ocean. They grow on electrodes, and feed on organic matter in urine as it flows past them, producing a small current of electrons.
Loannis Leropoulos, director of the Bristol Bioenergy Centre and leader of the project, claims the process cleans the water as well as generating energy. His team has used this process to charge a smartphone, although it took them 64 hours to complete. The process is slow and inefficient at the moment but the team believes they can boost the power of the fuel cells through future experimentation.
This technology will be monumental for areas of the world where 2.5 billion people do not have access to safe sanitation. There are also areas, many of them the same areas, where 1.2 billion people do not have access to power. These fuel cells have the potential to solve both of these problems.
Leropoulos’ team is attempting to use the same process with solid human waste. Faecal sludge is more enriched than urine and can allow the microbes to produce more power.
Urine and feces are not the only forms of human waste that researchers are learning to harness. “Fatbergs” also hold a lot of potential. Fatbergs are large formations of congealed grease, oil and fat, which accumulate in and clog sewers in most major cities. These unattractive sounding globs of foulness can be processed to make biodiesel fuel, which can be mixed with normal diesel and used in buses and trucks.