Electricity from Urine: Reinventing the Toilet for Refugee Camps and Beyond

by Vins
Published: Last Updated on

Research teams from the University of the West of England, University of Bristol, and activists from Oxfam have collaborated to make a prototype toilet that generates electricity from urine using microbial fuel cells (MFC). Designers hope to use the toilet in disaster zones where it is a challenge to illuminate inaccessible areas away from a power source. The fuel cells can also used to light cubicles in refugee camps and power mobile phones.

MFCs work by employing live microbes that feed on urine as their fuel. The MFC is, in effect, a system which taps a portion of that biochemical energy used for microbial growth and converts that directly into electricity. Researchers call it “urine-tricity” or pee power. This technology is about as green as it gets—no fossil fuels and an effective use of a waste product in plentiful supply.

The technology will certainly have other applications, and can be employed around the world. Oxfam provides sanitation in disaster zones. Andy Bastable, Head of Water and Sanitation at Oxfam, observed, “This (technology) is a huge step forward… since living in a refugee camp is hard enough without the added threat of being assaulted in dark places at night. The potential of this invention is huge.”

Source: Emma Fabian, “’Pee-power’ to light camps in disaster zones,” Reliefweb, March 5, 2015, http://www.static.reliefweb.int/report/world/pee-power-light-camps-disaster-zones.

Student Researcher: Suzanne Pinar, San Francisco State University

Faculty Evaluator: Kenn Burrows, San Francisco State University