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The microbial fuel cell
The microbial fuel cell

For the first time, engineers have charged a mobile phone using urine. They have created a fuel cell that uses bacteria to break down the liquid waste to generate electricity. They were then able to plug in a mobile phone to charge up its battery.

The urine powered fuel cells which could even eventually replace batteries in some devices is slightly larger than a car battery, but the researchers believe they will be able to make smaller and more portable versions.

Dr Ioannis Ieropoulos, an engineer at the Bristol Robotics Laboratory at the University of West England who has developed the fuel cell with colleagues at Bristol University, said: “No one has harnessed power from urine to do this so it’s an exciting discovery.

“The beauty of this fuel source is that we are not relying on the erratic nature of the wind or the sun; we are actually reusing waste to create energy. One product that we can be sure of an unending supply is our own urine.”

When urine was passed through the cylinders, the bacteria broke down the sugar and other chemicals it contained down to produce electrons, building up a small electrical charge inside the fuel cell.

This was then passed to a capacitor, which stored the electrical power. When a standard Samsung mobile phone was plugged in, it was charged up.

The amount of electricity produced is relatively small, just enough to make one call on the mobile phone. However, the researchers said it cost them around £1 to produce a functioning fuel cell, so such devices could provide a new cheap form of generating power.

The bacteria used in the fuel cells are the same as those normally found in waste water treatment plants.

They believe the technology could be installed into bathrooms to help power domestic devices such as showers, lighting and razors.

Dr Ieropoulos said: “We have been pursuing a number of different applications. “One would be to put these into domestic situations or it could be used in remote regions of the developing world. The fuel cells we have used to charge a mobile phone with hold around 50ml of urine but the smallest we have had working in the laboratory hold 1ml, so we can make them a lot smaller.

The concept has been tested and it works – it’s now for us to develop and refine the process so that we can develop MFCs to fully charge a battery.

Source: The Telegraph