Scientists have developed a way to convert urine in to a renewable energy source. But as Sally Magnusson, author of Life of Pee and presenter of Radio 4’s Secret Science of Pee, writes in this viewpoint feature, there is some way to go before the idea is embraced more widely.
A growing number of scientists have cottoned on to the fact that urine is a source of vital enzymes for medicine, precious minerals like fast-depleting phosphorus, and chemical compounds like urea, which are crucial to the manufacture of fertilisers, plastics and cosmetics and can also be used to make electricity.
The question is, can urine help us? And if so, can we see it not as a useless, embarrassing waste product, but as a substance that could drive the next stage of the green revolution?
I started out mildly intrigued by the range of uses urine had in centuries gone by – it was used in the manufacture of gunpowder, alum, dyes, paint and stained glass, to clean Roman togas, and heal wounds.
I wrestled with the revulsion that arises when we move from historical curiosity to envisaging personal application, but I ended up convinced there is an urgent role for urine again in the 21st Century, based on its unique scientific properties.
Urea, an important constituent of urine, is the key to many modern applications.
At Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, the Youtricity research team has developed a urine-powered system to generate electricity.
The carbamide power system runs on urea fuel cells sourced from human urine.
Dr Shanwen Tao, who invented the technology, said urea fuel cells were similar to hydrogen fuel cells, but used urea instead.
His colleague, Dr Robert Goodfellow said it had been a “huge” breakthrough in the search for renewable energy, but the system was being further developed.
See the full article from BBC News