Pee power! African teens create urine-fueled generator

One hour of electricity out of one liter of fuel

AFRICA - Four enterprising young African girls put together a generator that runs on a plentiful natural resource. Whether or not it could work efficiently is a different story.

In a stroke of ingenuity that could have proven handy during Hurricane Sandy, four teenage African girls have come up with a urine-powered generator.

Duro-Aina Adebola, Akindele Abiola, and Faleke Oluwatoyin, all 14, and Bello Eniola, 15, collaborated on the invention, which they claim generates one hour of electricity from one liter (about a quart) of urine.

The pee-powered product made its debut at Maker Faire Africa in Lagos, Nigeria, this week. A post on the Maker Faire Africa blog describes the generator's workings in the following words:

  • Urine is put into an electrolytic cell, which separates out the hydrogen.
  • The gas cylinder pushes hydrogen into a cylinder of liquid borax, which is used to remove the moisture from the hydrogen gas.
  • This purified hydrogen gas is pushed into the generator.

Hydrogen, of course, carries explosive risks, so the girls used one-way valves as a security measure (whether that is safety precaution enough is unclear). But don't start saving your bladder output just yet. The blog doesn't mention where the energy needed to power the electrolytic cell comes from, or whether the electrolytic cell uses more power than the machine generates.

While many commenters on the Maker Faire Africa blog are applauding the girls' work, others have expressed skepticism of their contraption. On one science-minded blog.  believers and not-so-believers are currently engaged in a lively and thorough deconstruction of its various components.

The girls will probably be famous chemists one day, in any case, but they aren't the first to propose urine (or more solid human and animal waste) as a possible alternative fuel.

Last year, in one example, researchers from Ohio University came up with their own technology for extracting hydrogen from urine. Doing so, they say, requires less power than plucking it from water, as hydrogen can be separated more easily from the ammonia and urea chemical compounds present in pee.

The four African teens likely are the youngest researchers yet to dabble in pee as power. Skepticism aside, can we all just agree that the foursome should be lauded for their efforts to find alternative power sources on a continent that could really use them? Sheesh. When I was 14, I'm pretty sure I was too busy watching TV to concern myself with hydrogen extraction.

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