The “P Cell” Is Exactly What You Might Suspect

[Josh Starnes] had a dream. A dream of a device that could easily and naturally be activated to generate power in an emergency, or just for the heck of it. That device takes in urea, which is present in urine, and uses it to generate a useful electrical charge. [Josh] has, of course, named this device the P Cell.

An early proof of concept uses urine to create a basic galvanic cell with zinc and copper electrodes, but [Josh] has other ideas for creating a useful amount of electricity with such a readily-available substance. For example, the urea could be used to feed bacteria or micro algae in a more elegantly organized system. Right now the P Cell isn’t much more than a basic design, but the possibilities are more than just high-minded concepts. After all, [Josh] has already prototyped a Hybrid Microbial Fuel Cell which uses a harmonious arrangement of bacteria and phytoplankton to generate power.

[Josh]’s entries were certainly among some of the more intriguing ones we saw in the Power Harvesting Challenge portion of The Hackaday Prize, and we’re delighted that his ideas will be in the running for the Grand Prize of $50,000.

34 thoughts on “The “P Cell” Is Exactly What You Might Suspect

    1. You missed the point. After 30 years sitting on the shelf in an emergency bunker, how will that AA from the supermarket do? After 30 years, add the P to the Cell, and it will work as well as the day it was made.

      1. If it’s a zinc-carbon dry cell, it’d probably still be good. It’s one of the reasons they still survive on the market vs alkalines and single-use lithiums… they last exceedingly well in very low-drain applications.

        As for something to put in an emergency bunker, I think I’d probably put my faith more in a hand-cranked dynamo and a bunch of thin-film capacitors (ie non electrolytic, non tantalum) for short term storage of charge – or perhaps just a wound-spring clockwork mechanism to drive the dynamo hands-off like the already well-established Wind-Up Radio. More immediate, higher power, and longer lasting than the P-cell, or most traditional batteries, and reusable unlike the dry cells.

  1. This is already developed enough to launch a Kickstarter.

    [intro: music with ukuleles and a small chorus of people whistling a happy tune. a suburban couple smilingly admire their cookie cutter house and perfectly manicured grass ]

    narrator: P-Power is ready to save the planet and now you can help make that dream reality. It is the world’s first urine powered battery. Imagine the difference we can make if every house had a P-cell to power your home and charge your cell Tesla. By using a P-cell to run a refrigerator to keep your beer cold to supply the raw materials for making more urine, the resulting positive feedback loop will solve global warming.

    [ Cut to 20-something silicon valley inventor with tousled hair and a two day beard]

    inventor: I first had the dream when peeing two years ago, thinking, everyone pees every day. There must be something better we can do with all this urine. Then it hit me: the P-cell. The technology works, and we need your help to carry the product across the finish line and save the planet for only $149* (* early bird pricing for the first 100 people)

    [ Cut to original suburban dad, standing with his back to the camera and his pants at his knees. he is wearing boxers, obviously peeing into some device hidden by his body. ]

    10 year old son enters frame: What are you doing, dad?

    Dad: I’m saving the planet Timmy!

    Timmy: Can I save the planet too?

    Dad: That’s my boy!

    [exit: suburban family once again admires their resource intensive home without guilt or shame, knowing they have done more than their share to save the planet ]

    1. Does HaD award prizes for comments, because that was the best most accurate thing I’ve read all year!

      Also, this takes the piss less than most crowdfunding campagins do ;)

    2. My wife ran a Boy Scout troop. She once commented to me that a troop of Boy Scouts knew only one way to put out a campfire, and it involved peeing on it.

      Also – in my misspent youth, I read a story (or paperback) about a Jewish James Bond. His car was pee-powered, so when it ran out of “gas”, he had to unzip and fill the tank. Don’t recall the title or how the fact that he was Jewish entered into it….anyone else recall this? So…now, it’s reality (or could be). New from Elon Musk: the Pee-sla,

  2. Urea is actually a really good way of turning hydrogen into a manageable solid fuel that just adds nitrogen and water back to the atmosphere as waste. Petroleum fuels are like a liquid battery that you use once then throw away into the sky, you can’t beat them for energy density and convenience but the CO2 is harder to manage.

    1. Yes! though I will print out a working version of this version, I am working with someone who is keen with chemistry to have a P-Cell stack able/ expandable MFC for power generation use.

  3. “prototyped a Hybrid Microbial Fuel Cell which uses a harmonious arrangement of bacteria and phytoplankton to generate power.”

    It is still just a zinc copper cell with a shitty electrolyte.

    I hope, he’ll try diarrhea as electrolyte next.

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