Fuel cell technology holds great potential for clean energy generation with both residential and commercial applications. Presently, the two biggest obstacles to such technology impacting our lives have been the cost of the catalysts involved, as well as the toxic/flammable nature of the two most commonly used fuel sources: hydrogen and methanol. But a research team at the UK’s Heriot-Watt University believes that another fuel source for fuel cells may be capable of overcoming both of these hurdles: urine.
The University’s Dr. Shanwen Tao and his research partner Dr. Rong Lan have developed a prototype of such a fuel cell, known as the Carbamide Power System, and were recently awarded a £130,000 ($201,643.00 USD) Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council grant to develop it. The process used by this system breaks the urea or urine into water, nitrogen and carbon dioxide. For this reason, it could be used not only to generate electricity, but to reprocess waste water on submarines, on islands, and even in space.
Dr Tao said, in a statement, “Growing up in rural eastern China I was aware of the use of urea as an agricultural fertilizer. When I became a chemist and was looking at fuel cell development I thought of using it in the process. We are only at prototype stage at present, but if this renewable material can be used as a commercially viable and environmentally friendly energy source then we will be absolutely delighted, and many people around the world will benefit.”
The use of urea (also known as Carbamide) as a fuel source in the Carbamide Power System allows it to make use of far cheaper membrane and catalysts than conventional fuel cells. More information on the system is available on Heriot-Watt University’s Youtricity page.