Waste not, want not, the saying goes, and researchers at the Bristol Robotics Laboratory are turning something we all produce – urine – into clean electricity, or 'urine-tricity'.
It sounds outlandish, but earlier this year, at the Reinvent the Toilet Fair in New Delhi, India – co-hosted by the Indian Department of Biotechnology and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation – the team exhibited a functional urinal that was able to charge a phone using just urine, a world first.
"It's very simple. The down pipe from the urinal goes straight into the box which contains the microbial fuel cells, it's as simple as that," Yannis Ieropoulos, professor and director of the Bristol BioEnergy Center at the Bristol Robotics Laboratory, told CNBC.com in a phone interview. The Bristol Robotics Laboratory is a collaboration between the University of the West of England and the University of Bristol.
"There is no pumping, no kind of clever filters or membranes in place: it is the urine going straight down the pipe and into the microbial fuel cells," he added.
The microbial fuel cells – or MFCs – Ieropoulos refers to contain live, naturally occurring microorganisms. These feed on the urine and produce electrons as a respiratory by-product. Electrodes in the MFCs facilitate the transfer of these electrons and create current when connected via a circuit.
The project Ieropoulos has been leading has received funding from, among others, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.