Oxfam teams up with scientists to develop ‘pee-power’ that lights camps in disaster zones

Prototype urinal generates electricity

A prototype urinal is proving how pee can generate electricity and could be used to provide power to refugee camps.

Oxfam has teamed up with researchers at University of the West of England, Bristol (UWE Bristol) to make the recent scientific breakthrough that is set to have a huge impact in revolutionising how relief agencies work in refugee camps and disaster zones.

Oxfam teams up with scientists to develop ‘pee-power’ that lights camps in disaster zonesIt is hoped the pee-power technology will light cubicles in refugee camps, which are often dark and dangerous places, particularly for women.

Oxfam Ireland Chief Executive Jim Clarken said: “Oxfam is an expert at providing sanitation in disaster zones, and it is always a challenge to light inaccessible areas far from a power supply. This technology is a huge step forward. 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.”

The prototype toilet, conveniently situated near the Student Union Bar at the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol), is currently being tested. Students and staff are being asked to use the urinal to donate pee to fuel microbial fuel cell (MFC) stacks that generate electricity to power indoor lighting.

The research team is led by Professor Ioannis Ieropoulos, Director of the Bristol BioEnergy Centre located at UWE Bristol. Professor Ieropoulos says: “This exciting project has already proved that this way of generating electricity works, when the team demonstrated that electricity generated by microbial fuel cell stacks could power a mobile phone.

“The microbial fuel cells work by employing live microbes which feed on urine (fuel) for their own growth and maintenance. 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 – what we are calling urine-tricity or pee power.

“This technology is about as green as it gets, as we do not need to utilise fossil fuels and we are effectively using a waste product that will be in plentiful supply.”

The urinal on the University campus resembles toilets used in refugee camps by Oxfam to make the trial as realistic as possible. It is the cheap, sustainable aspect of this technology, which relies on the abundant, free supply of urine that makes it so practical for aid agencies to use in the field.

Professor Ieropoulos says: “One microbial fuel cell costs about £1 to make, and we think that a small unit like the demo we have mocked up for this experiment could cost as little as £600 to set up, which is a significant bonus as this technology is, in theory, everlasting.”

For more information on Oxfam, visit www.oxfamireland.org

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