Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Urine power! Hydrogen produced from urea could be used to run cars, houses

It may not flush away the global energy crisis, but a new technology that uses urine could be powering cars and houses by the end of the year, according to a Discovery Channel report.
Scientists at Ohio University used a nickel-based electrode to make cheap hydrogen from urine, reports Discovery. Hydrogen gas is a common element but can be difficult to produce and store. When scientists stuck the electrode into a pool of urine and applied an electrical current, hydrogen gas was released – and used in fuel cells.
The prototype, developed by Ohio University professor Gerardine Botte, is about three inches by three inches and it produces up to 500 milliwatts of power. The scientists are hoping to create commercial versions of the technology, Discovery reported.
It’s estimated that a fuel-cell urine-powered car could theoretically travel 90 miles per gallon, said Botte.
“One cow can provide enough energy to supply hot water for 19 houses,” Botte said. “Soldiers in the field could carry their own fuel.”
The professors focused on urea, which is a urine byproduct, explains University of Georgia professor John Stickney.
“Urea is a byproduct of a lot of cities and farms, but even if you take all the people and all the animals, there’s not enough to run the world,” he says. “So this technology isn’t something that’s going to take over for Saudi Arabia.”
But, he says, the new technology “is not irrelevant. It’s good to work on a lot of different fronts because you never know which one is going to work.”
Historically, Stickney notes, urea is made into fertilizer, which is not the only way cow urine is used. In India, a soft drink made with bovine urine was recently under development and that country’s leading Hindu cultural group hoped to market it as a “healthy” alternative to traditional soft drinks.
Though applications using urine won’t be available to consumers for quite some time, it’s definitely worth developing, Stickney says. “We are going to have to put together a lot of greener ways to collect energy that don’t produce greenhouse gases and don’t require us to go to war,” he notes. “While this wouldn’t solve all our problems, it could be a useful technology. And if you designed a farm correctly then the waste products could produce the amount of energy required to run that farm.”

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