Four Nigerian Teens Build Working Pee-Powered Generator

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.

Maker Faire Africa Pee Powered Generator

Image via Maker Faire Africa

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.

Beth Buczynski is a freelancer writer and editor currently living in the Rocky Mountain West. Her articles appear on Care2, Ecosalon and Inhabitat, just to name a few. So far, Beth has lived in or near three major U.S. mountain ranges, and is passionate about protecting the important ecosystems they represent. Follow Beth on Twitter as @ecosphericblog

  • jenab6

    Electric generators can’t be made to run on urine because urine contains no substance that is in a state of readiness to be used for combustion. It is possible to evolve hydrogen from the urea in urine by electrolysis, but the energy cost of doing so is larger than the energy that can be recovered later from the hydrogen-oxygen reaction. Urea differs with petrochemicals in that respect, since a petrochemical such as kerosene is in a state of readiness to be used in an exothermic reaction.

    Like so many claims of black achievement, this one, um, smells. Let’s set aside the necessity, omitted from the account above, of first using energy to evolve hydrogen from urine and focus on the plausibility of one of its claims: one liter of urine provides electricity for six hours.

    From the 0.310 moles of H₂, evolved from the 9.3 grams of urea (CH₄N₂O) in 1 liter of urine, 74900 Joules of thermal and kinetic energy is a theoretical maximum, if the process efficiency to that point is 100%. That’s equal to 0.0208 kWh. Spread out over six hours, the average power would be 3.47 watts.

    However, hydrogen fuel cells are only about 40% efficient at best, and it isn’t likely that all of the hydrogen in the urea would be evolved by the electrolytic process.

    Let us guess, then, that one liter of urine might provide one watt of power for six hours, and that the total energy supplied during this amount of time is 21600 Joules. That’s about the same energy contained in two rechargeable D size NiMH batteries.

    It’s difficult to understand why anyone would want to insert a chemical process into a system that doesn’t need it. It would be better to quit fiddling around with piss and simply use the solar panel and a voltage regulator to charge your flashlight batteries directly. It would be far more efficient, and you wouldn’t have to wash any bad smell off your fingers.

    Although it is barely possible that these three girls invented a
    device such as this one, I consider it unlikely that they did so. At
    least not by themselves. The technical competence required is likely
    above that which they possess, and I have learned from experience that
    claims for significant black achievement are often over-hyped, to say
    the least, and outright fraud most of the time. Call me a doubter.

    There is another version of this hoax in which the “urine-powered” generator is the invention of FOUR Nigerian MALE students, rather than the three Nigerian female students shown in this version.