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Using The Power Of Pee To Generate Electricity In Refugee Camps

“Urine-tricity” can provide cheap, renewable energy to light bathrooms, and reduce violence against women as a result.

image via (cc) flickr user 7d7photo

Pee. Is there anything it can’t do?

It can tell you if you’re sick or not. It can help fertilize crops. And now, thanks to a team of British researchers, “pee-power” could one day generate electricity in places without permanent infrastructure.

According to a release put out last week by the University of the West of England, scientists there, in partnership with Oxfam International, have developed a power-generating urinal porta-potty which they hope can be installed in refugee camps in the near future. When used, the urinals convert pee to power, capturing the energy given off in a unique biochemical reaction. Bristol BioEnergy Center director, and lead researcher, Professor Loannis Leropoulos explains in the release:

"The microbial fuel cells work by employing live microbes which feed on urine (fuel) for their own growth and maintenance. The MFC [Microbial Fuel Cell"] is in effect a system which taps a portion of that biochemical energy used for microbial growth, and converts that directly into electricity - what we are calling urine-tricity or pee power. This technology is about as green as it gets, as we do not need to utilise fossil fuels and we are effectively using a waste product that will be in plentiful supply.”

As both the release and IFLScience note, the team behind the technology hope that by providing a renewable energy to light their bathrooms, they can reduce incidents of violence against women that often occur in or around the un-illuminated porta-potties found in many refugee camps. Per Andy Bastable, Head of Water and Sanitation at Oxfam: "Living in a refugee camp is hard enough without the added threat of being assaulted in dark places at night. The potential of this invention is huge.”

In 2013 the Bristol BioEnergy Center demonstrated the effectiveness of pee-power by using it to charge a cell phone. These Microbial Fuel Cell urinals take that concept one step further by demonstrating a modular, practical, real-world application for the technology. To help with that demonstration, Professor Ieropoulos’ team has installed a working pee-power urinal on the University of the West of England campus. Fabricated to look like the very porta-potties one might find in a disaster area or refugee camp, the prototype urinal sits above a stack of MFCs, and is open to any passers-by interested in helping generate a little pee-power.

image via youtube screen capture

Professor Ieropoulos theorizes that setting up a pee-powered porta-potty like the one on campus could cost as little as £600 ($900). That’s a small price to pay considering the urinal’s potential benefits to both safety, and electrical costs. If generating power is as easy as answering nature’s call, to not do so would be pissing away a great opportunity.

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