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Power From the People—How Brazil Turned Urine Into Electricity

08 Mar 2013 by admin in Science & Technology

We each produce 2.5 litres of the stuff a day and a total of 6.4 trillion liters globally, but until now it has been widely regarded as a rather unpleasant waste product.

However, a team of UK scientists reckon they may have found an extremely useful application for urine by turning it into electricity.

Dr Ioannis Ieropoulos and his team of scientists at the University of the West of England, Bristol, published research investigating whether urine could be used in microbial fuel cells.

The paper concludes that urine is rich in chemicals that can effectively be used in the cathode half of a fuel cell to react with bacteria in the anode.

The initial tests confirmed that urine-powered fuel cells are technically feasible, and the team now hopes to scale up a prototype system capable of powering homes, businesses or even a small village.

It’s not quite as miraculous as turning water into wine, but turning urine into electricity is equally unexpected. Perhaps even more unexpected was the testing ground for this rather unusual concept: Carnival in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Due to a shortage of public restrooms, the festival’s revelers often resort to, um, relieving themselves in public. A press release from J. Walter Thompson Brazil notes that, “the stench is impregnated through the city for days,” and the situation is so bad that the city has invested heavily in an awareness campaign.

JWT decided to help out and they teamed with the band AfroReggae for what they called the “Electric Pee” project. “The urinal itself was rented from Fla-con, a specialized chemical company that represents KROS [a manufacturer of mobile urinals] in Brazil,” Rodrigo Alberini, Digital Producer at JWT, tells TakePart. “They took care of all the logistics related to cleaning, transport and maintenance. But JWT created the concept and design and adapted the urinals for this specific use, supported by our technical partner Biz&Sys.”

Energy is generated from the flow of urine passing over turbines, a process JWT says is similar to that of a hydroelectric power plant. The power was then stored in batteries and used to provide portable power to AfroReggae’s sound system.

Ricardo John, Chief Creative Officer of JWT, was quoted as saying, “We thought we’d turn a sore subject, which generated much controversy, into something lighter and fun. We will reward with lots of music those who can hold it in a little longer and pee in the right place. It is educational and has a strong built-in social nature.”

And in case you’re thinking this all sounds like a one-off type of idea, consider that The Guardian reported last November that British scientists had declared, “pee power is possible.”

Researchers at the University of the West of England, Bristol, “confirmed that urine-powered fuel cells are technically feasible, and the team now hopes to scale up a prototype system capable of powering homes, businesses or even a small village . . . [they] are particularly interested in using the 38 billion liters of urine produced each day by farm animals.”

Back in Brazil, Alberini says that while nothing is yet confirmed, JWT is also hoping to find future applications for the project.

It kind of takes “waste not, want not” to a whole new level.

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