What if human waste, what’s left after our bodies extract energy-producing nutrients from our food and drink, could itself be transformed into energy? Four African teenagers went beyond asking this question: they created a generator powered by human urine. The machine, built by 14-year-olds Duro-Aina Adebola, Akindele Abiola, Faleke Oluwatoyin, and 15-year-old Bello Eniola,was presented in Lagos, Nigeria at the fourth annual Maker Faire Africa this November. The pan-African Maker Faire features and supports inventions that work to address problems like the worldwide need for energy production.
According to the Maker Faire Africa website, the machine turns 1 liter of urine into 6 hours of electricity and works like this: urine goes into an electrolytic cell, which extracts the hydrogen from the pee (specifically from the urea, one of the main compounds of urine). This hydrogen is purified in a water filter, and then pushed into a gas cylinder. There, the gas cylinder pushes the hydrogen into a liquid borax cylinder, where moisture is removed from the hydrogen gas. Finally, the purified hydrogen gas is pushed into the generator to power it.
As with all new inventions in alternative energy, this generator isn’t a panacea for our global energy problems. NBC’s John Roach offers a “reality check” concerning the pee-powered generator, pointing out that the Maker Faire Africa website does not list the wattage produced, so we don’t know just how much the generator could power. While Roach’s article tempers excitement about the pee generator, it does point to where this technology could be used effectively: wastewater treatment facilities where the pee already flows, ready to be put to use.
Perhaps machines like these could eventually become features of wastewater treatment facilities. Such a resourceful new invention that turns waste into electricity could turn wastewater treatment facilities into places where wastewater is not only treated, but where pee turns into power.
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