We often assume that revolutionary technological advancements are the stuff of MIT scientists or Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, but that’s not always the case. All it takes to change the world is a good idea and the courage to see it through to fruition. That difficult process is paying off for a group of four African teenagers who’s recent Maker Faire submission is rocking headlines around the world.
The girls are Duro-Aina Adebola (age 14), Akindele Abiola (age 14), Faleke Oluwatoyin (age 14) and Bello Eniola (age 15), and they all participated in the Maker Faire Africa this year in Lagos. Reliable electrical power is hard to find in many parts of Africa, and the girls wanted to make something that would be truly useful for their fellow countrymen. Together, they assembled a working generator that’s capable of turning a single liter of urine into 6 hours of electricity.
The average human produces about two liters of urine in a day, so this generator doesn’t require “input” from an entire village. Still, turning pee into clean energy requires more than just a full bladder and a place to put it.
First, collected urine is put into an electrolytic cell, which separates out the hydrogen. The hydrogen goes into a water filter for purification, which then gets pushed into the gas cylinder. The gas cylinder pushes hydrogen into a cylinder of liquid borax, which is used to remove the moisture from the hydrogen gas. The resulting purified hydrogen gas is then introduced to the generator. The girls were sure to include one-way valves to make the process safer, but as the Maker Faire Africa blog points out, there’s definitely risk of explosion.
In addition to that safety issue, there are other reasons why the pee-powered generator is far from market ready. As FastCoExist points out, “The separating of the hydrogen from the urine requires a source of electricity–and quite a bit of it. While the ammonia and urea in your urine make it easier to separate the hydrogen than it is to separate hydrogen from water (which is why we can’t use water as a power source) this generator still requires a large power input to work in the first place.”
Still, these teenagers aren’t the only ones who believe human urine could be a valuable source of energy sometime in the future. Scientists have been looking for a way to transform this waste into power for some time. We applaud these innovative young ladies for accomplishing in a couple of days what few have been able to achieve in a laboratory.