“It’s all about turning urine directly into electricity,” Professor Ioannis Ieropoulos says of his prototype toilet. The director of the Bristol BioEnergy Centre has installed the urinal at the University of the West of England to demonstrate how urine can generate electricity.
The project isn’t just for s**ts and giggles, though. The university partnered with poverty-fighting organization Oxfam to discover a way to bring electricity to refugee camps in disaster areas. The lack of light at toilets in these camps makes them immensely dangerous places in the dark. “Living in a refugee camp is hard enough without the added threat of being assaulted in dark places at night,” says Andy Bastable, Oxfam’s Head of Water and Sanitation, in a statement.
“We have already proved that this way of generating electricity works,” Ieropoulos says of the technique, which uses microbial fuel cell (MFC) stacks. Using microbes that turn urine into fuel, the system “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,” he says. (We guess electrici-pee didn’t make the cut?) Students who use the urinal can get a good look at the tech, located underneath the toilet, through a clear screen.
Though the unit cost about $900 (£600) to install, Ieropoulos points out that it’s a very eco-friendly method of generating power. Bastable says, “The potential of this invention is huge.” He calls it a possible game-changer for not just refugee camps but in any displaced camp.