A prototype toilet that generates electricity from urine is being launched today – near a students’ union bar.
The boffins behind the “pee-power” toilet hope it can be used by aid agencies in disaster zones to supply much-needed “urine-tricity” to refugee camps.
The urinal is the result of a partnership between researchers at the University of the West of England in Bristol and the charity Oxfam.
It is located near the students’ union at the university’s Frenchay campus and researchers will be hoping for brisk business at closing time.
Students and staff are being asked to use the urinal to donate pee to fuel the microbial fuel cell stacks that generate electricity to power indoor lighting.
The research team is led by Professor Ioannis Ieropoulos, of the Bristol Robotics Laboratory at UWE Bristol, who is an expert at harnessing power from unusual sources using microbial fuel cells.
“We have already proved that this way of generating electricity works,” the professor said.
“Work by the Bristol BioEnergy Centre hit the headlines in 2013 when the team demonstrated that electricity generated by microbial fuel cell stacks could power a mobile phone.
“This exciting project with Oxfam could have a huge impact in refugee camps.
“The microbial fuel cells work by employing live microbes which feed on urine for their own growth and maintenance.
“The microbial fuel cell is in effect a system which taps a portion of that biochemical energy used for microbial growth, and converts that directly into electricity – what we are calling urine-tricity or pee power.
“This technology is about as green as it gets, as we do not need to utilise fossil fuels and we are effectively using a waste product that will be in plentiful supply.”
The urinal on the university campus resembles toilets used in refugee camps by Oxfam to make the trial as realistic as possible.
The technology that converts the urine in to power sits underneath the urinal and can be viewed through a clear screen.
Andy Bastable, head of water and sanitation at Oxfam, said: “Oxfam is an expert at providing sanitation in disaster zones, and it is always a challenge to light inaccessible areas far from a power supply.
“This technology is a huge step forward. Living in a refugee camp is hard enough without the added threat of being assaulted in dark places at night. The potential of this invention is huge.”
They hope the abundant, free supply of urine will make the device practical for aid agencies to use in the field.
Prof Ieropoulos added: “One microbial fuel cell costs about £1 to make, and we think that a small unit like the demo we have mocked up for this experiment could cost as little as £600 to set up, which is a significant bonus as this technology is in theory everlasting.