It won’t be long before developing nations stop flushing a naturally abundant source of free energy down the toilet

Researchers from the University of Bath, Queen Mary University of London and the Bristol Robotics Laboratory have created a device inspired by microbial cells that turn organic matter like urine into electricity. With the world’s supply of fossil fuels being drastically depleted there is increasing pressure to develop new renewable sources of energy and bioenergy, such as the microbial fuel cells, could be a solution that can produce it.

What is a microbial fuel cell? They’re devices that use the natural processes of certain bacteria to turn organic matter into electricity. There are other ways of producing bioenergy, including anaerobic digestion, fermentation and gasification. But microbial fuel cells have the advantage of working at room temperature and pressure. They’re efficient, relatively cheap to run and produce less waste than the other methods.

In their study the researchers describe a new design of microbial fuel cell that overcomes two limitations of standard microbial fuel cells: their cost and low power production.

“Microbial fuel cells have real potential to produce renewable bioenergy out of waste matter like urine,” said Dr. Mirella Di Lorenzo, corresponding author of the study from the University of Bath. “The world produces huge volumes of urine and if we can harness the potential power of that waste using microbial fuel cells, we could revolutionize the way we make electricity.”

The impact on poorer countries could be massive, said Jon Chouler, lead author of the study from the University of Bath. “Microbial fuel cells could be a great source of energy in developing countries, particularly in impoverished and rural areas,”

“Our new design is cheaper and more powerful than traditional models. Devices like this that can produce electricity from urine could make a real difference by producing sustainable energy from waste.”

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