Four African female students designed a generator that can be fuelled by urine!
By: Amanda Froelich,
At an annual event meant to showcase ingenuity in Nigeria, Africa, four teenage girls, Duro-Aina Adebola (14) Akindele Abiola (14), Faleke Oluwatoyin (14), and Bello Eniola (15) displayed their inventive idea and blew away the judges.
The four teenagers who traveled to Maker Faire Africa in Lagos, Nigeria, displayed their home-made generator that is fueled off of urine.
As explained by the blog on the MakerFaireAfrica website, here’s how the generator works:
1) Urine is put into an electrolytic cell, which separates out the hydrogen.
2) The hydrogen goes into a water filter for purification, and then into a gas cylinder, which looks similar to the kind used for outdoor barbecue grills.
3) The gas cylinder pushes the filtered hydrogen into another cylinder that contains liquid borax, in order to remove moisture from the gas. Borax is a natural mineral, commonly used in laundry detergent.
4) The hydrogen is pushed into a power generator in the final step of the process.
A big drawback is that hydrogen poses an explosion risk. But the girls used one-way valves throughout the device as a safety measure.
While the idea of using urine is not new, the girls have created a practical way of putting the method into action. In times of emergency, such a device may be incredibly beneficial – especially for the average household.
In Africa, power generators are used much more often than locations like the States, and are usually relegated to emergency use. According to the MakerFaireAfrica blog, power shortages are an everyday occurrence – often multiple occurrence – in Lagos, so those who can afford a backup generator have one.
Realistically, however, technology needs to advance before such a system may be feasible and a safe option for many to use.
Geardine Botte, a professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at Ohio University, is one of the many working on practical ways to make urine into a more useful hydrogen source. Her goal – along with other scientists – is to do that by turning power into a byproduct of wastewater treatment. The professor says that it takes more energy to extract hydrogen from urine than you end up getting in return as electricity. And of course, the energy equation becomes even more skewed by the inefficiency of the generator used in the girls’ project.
“At first glance, they’re not having a net gain in energy,” Botte says. “But I think it’s important to say that these little girls, trying to do something like this, deserve a lot of credit.”
For the teens in Africa to build a humble urine-powered generator says a lot about the upcoming generation; no doubt all the girls should be commended for their hard work, as green alternatives are needed now more than ever.
Thankfully environmentalists persevere to educate, and scientists remain committed to developing technologies which will hopefully reduce pollution and stall predicted environmental disasters.
Botte’s own approach to use electrolysis of urea as a method of waste-water treatment is a more realistic method to utilize urine for fuel. She says she has developed a process of converting urine into portable water which is more cost effective and offers more energy. In effect, pure hydrogen is produced as a byproduct and can be used to fuel a generator.
“You cannot get net energy gain, but there is no more efficient way to get clean water from urine,” Botte says.
Either way, it’s inspiring that scientists of all ages are not only working hard to remedy some of the world’s ails, but are inspired by their work and remain committed to optimizing their efforts.
Sources for this article include: