Urine Powered Generator: Teenage Folly or New-Age Rocket Fuel?

According to the Global Press Institute, four teenage girls have invented the world’s very first urine-powered home generator in an effort to tackle Nigeria’s extensive energy problems.

It all started when teenager Adebola Duro-Aina, a student in the Doregos private Academy, read a story of a large family dying from carbon monoxide poisoning from a generator in their home.

“I was sad about how people died while trying to provide electricity for themselves, trying to make their living better,” said Duro-Aina.

The inspired teen decided that beginning September 2012 she would enlist three friends to help her design a generator able to be powered by a clean, alternative fuel. With the help of Oluwatoyim Faleke, Eniola Bello, Abiola Akindele, and her teachers, Duro-Aina was able to complete the urine-powered generator in time for the Maker Faire Africa in Lagos.

Here’s how the system works:

1. Urine is poured into an electrolytic cell. The hydrogen is extracted within the cell.

2. Hydrogen is transferred into a water filter for purification.

3.  Once purified, the hydrogen is pushed  into a glass cylinder containing liquid borax. The borax removes moisture from the hydrogen gas.

4. The purified hydrogen is finally pushed into the generator.

According to Duro-Aina’s data, one liter of urine has the power to provide six hours of electricity.

While appreciative of the teenager’s project, a leading American Scientist is skeptical.

“What these kids are doing is taking urea electrolysis and making hydrogen and then using that hydrogen to make electricity,” said Ohio University chemical engineer and urea electrolysis process inventor Gerardine Botte. “It is a high school project, so don’t take it so seriously.”

The scientist is of the opinion that the process is best used for wastewater treatment, as it makes it more energy efficient. Since all wastewater plans are collecting urea, it makes most sense to extract the hydrogen. Plants can then reduce their dependence on outside sources of electricity and bring down costs.

Interestingly enough, Dutch scientists believe that urine has much greater implications for the future. According to NBC News, the scientists are working to crack the code on how bacteria can convert ammonium (a key component of urine) into hydrazine, commonly used as a rocket fuel.

“Now that we can understand how hydrazine is made we can try to improve the catalyst,” said Mike Jetten, microbiologist at Radboud University Nijmegen in the Netherlands. “And we produce millions of tons of ammonium in wastewater every year,” suggesting there may be enough to manufacture rocket fuel.

Jetten and his team are committed to revealing how wastewater treatment can best serve the world. “The better we know the process, the better we can optimize and design new wastewater treatment systems.”

While Duro-Aina’s urine generator has made some scientists skeptical, she appears to be onto something. Currently, the teenager is seeking funding to take her project to the next level.