Thursday, November 29, 2012

Powered by pee

You read that headline correctly.

Nigeria...where only half of the population has access to electrical power.  It wouldn't surprise me if the other half has to share that power off and on, much as I experienced in Haiti.

I've been learning more about Africa tangentially through the work that a few of my students are doing.  Among the continent's numerous challenges is infrastructure.  How can nations advance without the energy to do it?  Well, a few young ladies in Nigeria might have found a way: use your own urine.

That's right, folks.  We've seen the future and it is made of pee.  I'm being serious.  This a most ingenious proposal made by these young students.  Their assignment was to take a waste product and recycle it for another use.  Why not use urine?  We all have it.  It's readily accessible and can be easily stored.  As one Nigerian student says in the linked video:

 “We opted for urine, since, one, it’s a waste product, and if we use urine as we carry out electrolysis, if we use urine [sic], our waste product or our exhaust gas is going to be water and that’s not poisonous to our environment.”

The urine goes through an electrolytic cell where it's broken down to nitrogen, water, and hydrogen.  The hydrogen-oxygen is then purified and stored to be used as needed.  It is estimated that the device can produce six hours of electricity per one litre of urine.  They've even added washing soda in to eliminate the foul odor typically associated with urine.  I'm still unclear as to how the toxicity of the urine might play into the process, but perhaps that is what is taken care of somehow during the purification process.

This is the sort of innovation that we need.  I'm mildly impressed with humanity right now.


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