Scientists Invent Mobile Phone Charging Powered By Urine

British scientists have come up with a novel and potentially inexhaustible supply of power for today’s mobile phones.

They have reportedly charged a Samsung mobile phone using a plentiful source of waste found in most households, namely human urine.

Wee smartphones?

Dr Ioannis Ieropoulos, from the Bristol Robotics Laboratory, developed a microbial fuel cell which is said to to be slightly bigger than a car battery.

The lab is a collaboration between the University of the West of England and the University of Bristol, and the project was funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, the Gates Foundation (founded by Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates), and the Technology Strategy Board.
The researchers published their findings in the Royal Society of Chemistry journal Physical Chemistry Chemical Physics.

They found that to generate electricity a fuel cell can use the same bacteria commonly found in water treatment centres to break down urine. The boffins grew the bacteria on specially made carbon fibre anodes. A cascade of fuel cells pumps in and expels the urine through the anode, while a cathode likewise similarly pumps water.

The microbial fuel cell acts as an energy converter, as it turns the organic matter directly into electricity, via the metabolism of the live micro organisms. Actually, the electricity generated is a by-product of the microbes’ natural life cycle. So the more the micro organisms within the bacteria consume, the more energy they generate.

However, before people start believing that dropping their smartphone in a toilet is a good idea, a word of caution. The amount of power generated from this process is quite small (enough for a quick telephone call for example), and the fuel cell itself is quite big at the moment, although the scientists believe they can produce a much more portable fuel cell in the future.

Give friends a tinkle

Dr Ioannis Ieropoulos told the BBC that harnessing power from “the ultimate waste product” was “a world first”.

“One product that we can be sure of an unending supply is our own urine,” he is quoted as saying. “By harnessing this power as urine passes through a cascade of microbial fuel cells (MFCs), we have managed to charge a Samsung mobile phone.”

The researchers claim that urine is a far more stable source of power than other more erratic green power sources such as the wind or sun. And they are hoping that the technology could be installed in the bathrooms of the future, in order to provide enough power to run a shower, electric shavers, or lighting.

Coming up with unusual and ground breaking ways to power our mobile devices is nothing new.

Everything from battery powered clothing thanks to a flexible lithium-ion battery woven into fabrics, to power-generating wellington boots has been demonstrated in the past.

In March this year Scientists from the University of East Anglia claimed a discovery that could lead to the efficient generation of clean electricity from bacteria and therefore “bio-batteries”, as proteins on the surface of bacteria can produce an electrical current by touching a mineral surface.

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Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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