Teens Create A Way To Use Urine As Fuel

Here’s some news from Africa that will be of interest to all of the people waiting in line for gas to use in their generators after Hurricane Sandy.

Four teenage girls figured out a way to use a liter of urine as fuel to get six hours of electricity from their generator. Fourteen-year-olds Duro-Aina Adebola, Akindele Abiola, and Faleke Oluwatoyin, and 15-year-old Bello Eniola displayed their invention this week at Maker Faire Africa in Lagos, Nigeria, an annual event meant to showcase ingenuity.

Here’s how the urine-powered generator works, as explained by the blog on the makerfaireafrica.com website:

• Urine is put into an electrolytic cell, which separates out the hydrogen.

• The hydrogen goes into a water filter for purification, and then into a gas cylinder, which looks similar to the kind used for outdoor barbecue grills.

• The gas cylinder pushes the filtered hydrogen into another cylinder that contains liquid borax, in order to remove moisture from the gas. Borax is a natural mineral, commonly used in laundry detergent.

• The hydrogen is pushed into a power generator in the final step of the process.

A big drawback is that hydrogen poses an explosion risk. But the girls used one-way valves throughout the device as a safety measure.

Three of the four girls with their ingenious invention. (Credit: makerfaireafrice.com)

The idea of using urine as fuel is not new. The girls have come up with a practical way to put the idea into action, though. Their method for using urine to power a generator is one the average household can appreciate.

Power generators are used far more often in Africa than here, where they are relegated more to emergency use, as in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. The Maker Faire Africa blog says power outages happen multiple times a day in Lagos, so all those who can afford a backup generator have one.

Still, technology needs to evolve further before such a system is feasible, at least as far as applications like powering generators go.

Gerardine Botte, a professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at Ohio University, is among those working on practical ways to make urine into a more useful hydrogen source, essentially by turning power into a byproduct of wastewater treatment. She says it takes more energy to extract hydrogen from urine than you end up getting in return as electricity. The energy equation gets even more skewed by the inefficiency of the generator used in the girls’ project.

“At first glance, they’re not having a net gain in energy,” Botte says. “But I think it’s important to say that these little girls, trying to do something like this, deserve a lot of credit.”

The idea behind the humble urine-powered generator is along the lines of Botte’s own thinking, and her research is all about efficient ways to break urine down into its useful components.

Once the urine is processed, purified hydrogen gas is pushed into the generator. (Credit: makerfaireafrica.com)

 

Read the full article over at  – Forbes 

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