Chemists are working on two different approaches to generate electricity from urine. While your pee doesn’t have enormous amounts of pent up energy, you do have enormous amounts of it. Collectively, humans excrete over 10 billion liters of the stuff every day.
Gerardine Botte, a chemical engineer at Ohio University, is working on using urine to generate hydrogen, which could then be used in conventional hydrogen fuel cells. The advantage of urine over water is that it requires only 25% of the energy required to liberate the hydrogen from a water molecule as from a molecule of urea. This makes the process much more energy efficient.
Even more interesting is the work of Shanwen Tao of Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, UK. Tao is developing an electrolytic cell that directly converts urea to electricity. The power outputs are relatively low so you’re unlikely to power your home with the family toilet anytime soon. But it is about the right level to power small electronic devices.
If this works out, you may never have to leave the couch again. Rather than getting up for a potty break, you just whizz in the phone or the remote or the DVR, or whatever is looking low on juice. Who says the future doesn’t sound exciting?