They Put The “P” In Power

Fuel cells are like batteries, sort of. Both use chemical reactions to produce electricity. The difference is that when a battery exhausts its reactants, it goes dead. In some cases, you can recharge it, but you typically get less energy back with each recharge. A fuel cell, on the other hand, will make electricity as long as you keep supplying fuel. What kind of fuel? Depends on the cell, but most often it is hydrogen or methanol.

Researchers at the University of Bath, Queen Mary University of London, and the Bristol Robotics Laboratory want to use a different fuel: urine. According to the researchers, that’s one resource we will never deplete. The fuel cell is a type of microbial fuel cell which is nothing new. The breakthrough is that the new cell is relatively inexpensive, using carbon cloth and titanium wire. Titanium isn’t usually something you think of as cheap, until you realize that conventional cells usually use platinum.

Oddly enough, turning urine into power isn’t a unique idea (as you can see in the video below; apparently the guys in Bristol have been thinking about this for a while). For our part, we’ve covered urine power and gunpowder production, so we won’t be surprised to see a lot of wordplay in the comment section of this post.

31 thoughts on “They Put The “P” In Power

  1. Back in the Seventies someone was selling an emergency battery for marine use that one activated by filling it with urine. As I recall the battery was then used to power a beacon of some sort.

    1. That’s more likely to be a liquid-activated battery. All the energy comes from the material in the battery; the urine just forms the electrolyte. It’s a one use item; once the battery is depleted, it can’t be recharged. The benefit is that in the dry state the battery can be stored indefinitely, unlike ordinary cells that have an expiry date.

    1. This article is referring to a fuel cell, which should be much more sustainable than a lemon-type battery. The lemon-type battery would require eventual replacing of the electrodes as well as the lemon, correct? Whereas in a fuel cell, the only thing needed for a recharge is more fuel.

      1. Correct – the energy in that system comes from the metals in the electrodes. The lemon juice/urine is just an electrolyte; it provides a medium for ions to move in but doesn’t actually supply any energy.

  2. What has it been, since maybe around 2000 when the military industrial complex was promising a belt sized fuel cell(methanol) with a lithium rechargeable pack for surge loads? I believe they even hod the US aviation rules changed to accommodate them with the world following suite as usually happens with these regulations.
    I love solar but living remote I would delight in knowing I could reliably run my stuff from a few hoarded jugs of methanol, or pee for that matter using an inexpensive fuel cell. Why are affordable fuel culls around the corner like fusion or a Mars mission? Once we get them I also want cheap, low power budget reliable small antenna internet, and why not rocket packs which run on water…

  3. The first references to fuel cells appeared in 1838 and they have been tomorrow’s battery ever since. I like using them as an example of just how long it sometimes takes a “new and revolutionary” technology to move from lab to market when discussing nuclear fusion.

  4. 2 questions:
    1 where do I get the files, to build one myself?
    2 who has a sample of the bacteria needed for that?
    seriously, you can not make that article, without proving some useful links.

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