Just a few years back, we would never have imagined that urine can be recycled to be used by us in a different form.
With the hike in fuel prices and with more and more consumers showing concern over environmental abuse, car makers are turning to the production of cleaner and more economical vehicles.
Hydrogen is the most common element in the universe and is one of the two natural elements that combine to make water. Although, hydrogen is not an energy source by itself, it is an energy carrier, and thus is useful as a compact energy source in fuel cells and batteries.
For many years, companies have been trying to develop new technologies that can exploit the full potential of hydrogen energy more efficiently than it is being done now. The problem with hydrogen is that it is difficult and costly to produce, store as well as transport. Storing pure hydrogen gas requires low temperature and high pressure. Although, new nanomaterials with high surface areas can absorb hydrogen, they are yet to be produced on a commercial scale.
Binding hydrogen chemically to other elements like oxygen to create water makes it easy to store and transport, but it becomes extremely expensive in terms of the amount of electricity required to release this hydrogen when the need arises.
The most common way of producing hydrogen until now has been from fossil fuels. Today, alternatives for the production of cheaper hydrogen are being looked at by scientists and the latest discovery in this regard is “pee power.”
How does powering your car with urine sound? It may be a disgusting thought, but scientists at Ohio University are excited about the possibility of powering homes, cars and electronic devices with urine. This new technology is expected to be available in about six months time.
The best part of using urine to power vehicles is the cost effectiveness. Scientists say that they can now produce cheap hydrogen in large quantities using a nickel-based electrode and this hydrogen could be used in fuel cells or burned.
The latest discovery involves an understanding that hydrogen can easily be stored without the need to create any special environmental conditions. Scientists have succeeded in doing this by attaching hydrogen to nitrogen and then releasing it with the use of less electricity when compared to the amount of electricity needed for water.
The major component of urine is urea and one molecule of urea contains four atoms of hydrogen bonded to two atoms of nitrogen. Releasing hydrogen from this is a very simple process and all that needs to be done is to stick a special nickel electrode into sufficient quantity of urine and apply an electrical current to release hydrogen.
The current prototype has the capacity to produce only up to 500 milliwatts of power. However, scientists are now trying to create larger versions of the technology so that it can soon be used for commercial purposes.
Scientists say that a fuel cell urine-powered vehicle is expected to travel 90 miles per gallon. At an approximate cost of $5000, a unit that is as big as a refrigerator will have the capacity to produce one kilowatt of energy.
According to a professor at Ohio University, Gerardine Botte, “One cow can provide enough energy to supply hot water for 19 houses. Soldiers in the field could carry their own fuel.”
A chemist and professor at the University of Georgia, John Stickney says, “The waste products from say a chicken farm could be used to produce the energy needed to run the farm.” For farmers of livestock who are legally expected to pool animal waste, large-scale prototypes can easily turn all that urine into power in a six-month period.
Although, scientists are currently working on it, it is going to take time for this new technology to grow and be available for all to use. Larger versions are expected to be made available first for commercial use. If you fall into the small consumer category, you will have to wait a while before making use of this source of Hydrogen, and there is no need to start saving pee just yet.