Mobile phone owners could soon be able to give their batteries a boost with their own urine.
British scientists at the Bristol Robotics Laboratory have developed a way of using urine as a power source to generate electricity and claim to have created the world’s first microbial fuel cells (MFC) powered mobile phone.
While many people might turn their noses up at the energy source, the researchers said that it is the ‘ultimate waste product’ and does not rely on the erratic nature of the wind or the sun.
The scientists shared their breakthrough in the Royal Society of Chemistry Journal of Physical Chemistry Chemical Physics.
Dr. Ioannis Ieropoulos, an expert at harnessing power from unusual sources using microbial fuel cells at the University of West England, Bristol, which was also involved in the research, said the urine-powered phone is a ‘world first’.
“No-one has harnessed power from urine so it’s an exciting discovery. Using the ultimate waste product as a source of power to produce electricity is about as eco as it gets.
“One product that we can be sure of an unending supply is our own urine. By harnessing this power as urine passes through a cascade of MFCs, we have managed to charge a Samsung mobile phone.”
He believes that the reliability of the fuel source is a big selling point. He added, “The beauty of this fuel source is that we are not relying on the erratic nature of the wind or the sun; we are actually re-using waste to create energy.
“So far the microbial fuel power stack that we have developed generates enough power to enable SMS messaging, web browsing and to make a brief phone call.”
However, he said that making a long call on a mobile phone is far more power hungry.
“Making a call on a mobile phone takes up the most energy but we will get to the place where we can charge a battery for longer periods.
“The concept has been tested and it works – it’s now for us to develop and refine the process so that we can develop MFCs to fully charge a battery.”
Microbial fuel cells are energy converters that turn organic matter directly into electricity by utilising the metabolism of live micro-organisms.
Ieropoulos said, “Essentially, the electricity is a by-product of the microbes’ natural life cycle, so the more they eat things like urine, the more energy they generate and for longer periods of time.”
The electricity output of MFCs is relatively small and the researchers are currently only been able to store and accumulate low levels of energy into capacitors for short charge and discharge cycles.
However they claim that this is the first time that scientists have been able to directly charge the battery of a device such as a mobile phone and it should be seen as a significant breakthrough.
They believe that their research, which was funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, the Gates Foundation and the Technology Strategy Board, has the potential to be installed in bathrooms.