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Boffins want toilets to become POWER PLANTS

First pee-powered mobe hailed as harbinger of bathroom-as-energy-source

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Dr Ioannis Ieropoulos and colleagues from the University of the West of England's Bristol outpost and the Bristol Robotics Laboratory have claimed a world's first: powering a mobile phone with human urine.

Detailed in the paper Waste to Real Energy: the first MFC powered mobile phone in the journal Physical Chemistry Chemical Physics.

The research builds on previous work conducted by Ieropoulos and colleagues on a technology called “microbial fuel cells” (MFCs) that mimic biological processes to produce electricity. Mimicking processes is useful because we know bacteria eat all sorts of stuff – including human urine – and derive sufficient enough to stay alive. If we can do likewise with MFCs, all sorts of energy sources may become feasible.

UWE Bristol's canned statement explains that such fuel cells work, but that it is very tricky to harness the energy they produce. That trick's been done before, but only to store power in capacitors. That class of device is useful for delivering brief jolts of energy – capacitors play a big role in mobile phones' and cameras' flashes – but is no use for charging a battery.

Until now, that is, as Dr Ieropoulos' latest research reports MFCs charged a Samsung phone with “enough power to enable SMS messaging, web browsing and to make a brief phone call”. The researchers of course hope to refine the process so pee-powered phone could one day do much more.

They're also imagining in-situ power plants in domestic loos, as the canned statement says “The scientists believe that the technology has the future potential to be installed into domestic bathrooms to harness the urine and produce sufficient electricity to power showers, lighting or razors as well as mobile phones.”

At this point Reg readers might think the scientists are full of wind, but they point out the planet isn't.

“The beauty of this fuel source is that we are not relying on the erratic nature of the wind or the sun,” Ieropoulos says. “We are actually re-using waste to create energy.” And with seven billion of us Homo Sapiens stomping about the planet voiding our bladders multiple times a day, that's a lot of waste waiting to be wasted on the things we do with our phones. ®

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