(UR) Glastonbury — Perhaps using the facilities in the dark has never been a concern for you, but in many countries, including those with refugee camps, bathrooms rarely have good sanitation, nor electricity to illuminate the area.
At the latest Glastonbury Musical Festival a solution to this dilemma was presented by researchers from the University of West England. Using their novel approach, enough power was generated by ‘pee’ to light up the night.
Urine has many positive uses — diluted, it can even help fruit trees grow. Many permaculturists know the power of pee in this regard; however, urine can also be transformed into electricity with the help of a bacterial compound. The process utilizes microbial fuel cells (MFC), with an anode and a cathode.
Bacteria colonizes an anode electrode from the urine collected in a container. This acts as a catalyst, decomposing the organic matter. In order to power lights, the decomposition releases both protons, which travel from the anode to the cathode across a semipermeable membrane, and electrons, which travel through an external electrical circuit. To complete the cycle, an oxygen reduction reaction also takes place in the cathode. Essentially, every time someone urinates, enough power is generated to make a light bulb shine.
Urinals that turn pee into electricity are set to be installed, in fact, in refugee camps in Africa and India. Ioannis Ieropoulos, the Director of the Bristol BioEnergy Centre, who led research allowing this reality, commented:
“The ultimate purpose is to get electricity to light the toilets, and possibly also the outside area, in impoverished regions, which may help improve the safety of women and children, in countries where they have to use communal toilet facilities outside their homes.”
Around the world, more than 2.5 billion people are living without access to proper toilets, and 1.3 billion people are living in the dark. Another 45 million people live in refugee camps to escape violence, war, and natural disasters. Access to lit bathrooms is a huge step for developing countries with no electricity.
The world’s conflicts may have created horrid living conditions, but the most obtuse among us can agree that providing better sanitation for people in need is a most humane step to ending the need for refugee camps altogether.
The technology that runs pee-powered urinals can be accessed in the journal, Environmental Science: Water Research & Technology. If it were joined with other creative discoveries, like the 15-year old girl’s invention in Nigeria, that can run a generator for six hours on one liter of urine, then we might just finally solve some major humanitarian crises.
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