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31 July, 2009

Energy From Urine

Yep, you read it correctly. The article states: "Urine-powered cars, homes and personal electronic devices could be available in six months with new technology developed by scientists from Ohio University.

Using a nickel-based electrode, the scientists can create large amounts of cheap hydrogen from urine that could be burned or used in fuel cells. 'One cow can provide enough energy to supply hot water for 19 houses,' said Gerardine Botte, a professor at Ohio University developing the technology. 'Soldiers in the field could carry their own fuel.'"


As many of you are already aware, the idea of using hydrogen as fuel has been fairly widely covered. Many found it to be an exciting prospect initially because it is one of the most widely-available elements in the universe, but it is also very volatile, causing it to be dangerous to store/transport.

One option under which it would theoretically be less dangerous would be just to store water (two hydrogen atoms bonded to a single atom of oxygen). Then, when the hydrogen is needed, it could be separated from the oxygen and used as a fuel. The problem is that electrolysis of water to produce hydrogen has been found to be an energy sink, meaning the process of performing the electrolysis uses more electricity than can be gleaned from the resulting hydrogen.

The process proposed in the article linked above, however, revolves around using urine instead. Interestingly, each molecule of urea, a major component of urine, contains four atoms of hydrogen bonded to two atoms of nitrogen. This differing chemical composition, they argue, means that they need only use 0.037 Volts of electricity to release the hydrogen as a gas as opposed to the 1.23 Volts needed to do the same with normal water.

Fascinating.

I am still, however, a skeptic in that I believe we have run out of the time needed to implement the complete 'ground-up' overhaul of our national infrastructure that such a fundamental changeover would require. Even if this turns out to be a great energy source, we need to have made this breakthrough a decade ago.

Still, it is very interesting.

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