Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation invests in urine-powered mobile phone

Project aims to create "Urine-tricity: electricity from urine."
By Evan Bleier  |  Updated Dec. 24, 2013 at 2:07 PM
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Talk about flushing money down the toilet…

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has invested in the second stage of a project to produce electrical power by digesting urine. The hope is that the new power source, dubbed “Urine-tricity: electricity from urine,” will be able to power mobile phones for people who live in areas that don’t have proper sanitation.

Here’s a description about the project, in development at Bristol Robotics Laboratory:

“The main aim of this proposal is to recover useful levels of electrical energy directly from urine, and thus convert an existing -- entirely unexploited -- waste into a sustainable fuel for the future, with concomitant clean water production.

To achieve this Microbial Fuel Cells (MFCs) utilize specialized, naturally-abundant microbes housed within the anodic chamber of the fuel cell as the bio-catalyst. The microbes are fed urine directly and as part of their normal metabolic process consume the urine which generates electrons and when connected to a cathode allows a path for these electrons generating current.

In addition the passing of these electrons and protons through an ion-selective membrane, (which separates the anodic and cathodic chambers of the MFC), reacts with air generating clean water.”

Besides spending on urine-tricity, the Gates' foundation also is investing in a waterless toilet and a solar steam sterilizer designed to convert human waste into fuel.

“Today, 2.5 billion people practice open defecation or lack adequate toilet facilities so we are always looking for new ways to ensure that less human waste winds up in the environment, untreated,” said Brian Arbogast, director of the Water, Sanitation & Hygiene team at the BMGF. “Innovations don’t need to be complicated or expensive in order to be impactful which is why we are so excited about the range of approaches these projects represent.”

[Bristol Robotics Laboratory] [The Register]

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