‘Pee-power’ could light up refugee camps

Researchers at the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol) teamed up with global development organisation Oxfam to invent a urinal that can generate electricity. The goal is to bring the technology to light cubicles in refugee camps, making the areas around them less dangerous at night, especially for women.

The technology is based on microbial fuel cells (MFC) that employ live microbes which feed on urine (fuel) for their own growth and maintenance, explains Professor Ioannis Ieropoulos, director of the Bristol BioEnergy Centre at UWE Bristol. The MFC taps a portion of that biochemical energy used for microbial growth and converts it directly into electricity.

Nicknamed ‘urine-tricity’ or ‘pee power’, Ieropoulos calls the technology “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.” The fact that the technology relies on the abundant, free supply of urine also lowers the costs, making it highly practical for aid agencies to use in the field.

Oxfam describes the technology as a huge step forward. Says 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.”

The Bristol BioEnergy Centre already made headlines in 2013 when it demonstrated that electricity generated by MFC stacks could power a mobile phone.


Photo credit: UWE Bristol/YouTube

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