Aug. 13 - Does the call of nature hold the answer to a new form of renewable energy? Scientists in the UK are confident that it does. With backing from both the British government and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the researchers have developed a method for charging mobile phones with human urine. Matthew Stock reports.
==RESENDING WITH UPDATED EDIT=== Scientists at the University of the West of England, are harvesting electricity from human urine ..enough to partially power a mobile phone. The researchers have developed microbial fuel cells that use organic matter to generate electricity. Urine is fed to live bacteria grown on carbon fibre anodes. The bacteria breaks down the urine, producing electricity in the process. The project is currently running on urine donations from fellow scientists, with laboratory restrooms providing collection bins for approved contributors. Other waste materials have been tested, but lead scientist Dr. Ioannis Ieropoulos says urine has particularly attractive qualities. (SOUNDBITE) (English) DR. IOANNIS IEROPOULOS, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR AT BRISTOL ROBOTICS LABORATORY, SAYING: "It's the whole package. It's the conductivity of urine, urine is an electrolyte, the pH that it naturally has, as well as the organic content and the microbial ability to utilise that organic content. All together it's a much better fuel." And with continued funding, Ieropoulos and his team aim to turn their experiments into a practial, marketable system of 'smart toilets'... ready within 3 years. (SOUNDBITE) (English) DR. IOANNIS IEROPOULOS, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR AT BRISTOL ROBOTICS LABORATORY, SAYING: "The 2-3 year milestone we have to meet is essentially turning a toilet or a bathroom into a 'smart toilet' or a 'smart bathroom', where we have on the side of the urinal or the toilet we have a USB plug that's giving enough electricity to charge a USB device, or a universal adapter for stand-alone electrical devices." (SOUNDBITE) (English) DR. IOANNIS IEROPOULOS, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR AT BRISTOL ROBOTICS LABORATORY, SAYING: "So we will have a fully charged mobile phone over night, and then the following day you can unplug it, go to work, run your mobile phone, come back home, go to the loo, and then charge the mobile phone." A key goal of the project is to develop fuel cells that can be mass produced for the developing world. There's still some hurdles for the team to overcome, like making fuels cells that can generate more electricity at a faster rate. But they're confident that one day the call of nature could provide an answer to some everyday energy needs.