The idea has been around for decades but scientists have finally been able to put it into practice: harnessing the power of urine to create a source of electricity.

Bristol Robotics Laboratory researchers have created a urine-powered fuel cell that was able to charge a phone with enough electricity to surf the Internet, send text messages and even make a brief call.

Urine-Powered Fuel Cell Charges Mobile Phone

The experiment was headed by Dr. Ioannis Ieropoulos, who is an expert in using microbial fuel cells (MFC) to harness power from unusual sources. Ieropoulos said his experiment was the first to actually succeed in creating a fuel cell powered by pee.

The lead researcher also underlined that one of the main benefits of using such a technology is that it is based on a resource that is practically endless and that unlike wind and solar energy, it does not rely on unpredictable weather conditions.

Ieropoulos’s experiment used an MFC stack to transform urine into electricity. The microbial fuel cells contain microbes that can feed on organic matter and thus generate electricity. The actual MFCs consist of ceramic cylinders containing bacteria grown on carbon fiber anodes.

Urine is then passed through the cylinders and broken down into chemicals, the process resulting in the creation of a small amount of electricity (a few microwatts per one MFC). Scientists used eight MFCs together to produce 642 mV, which is still not much, but was enough to charge a mobile phone.

The MFC setup Bristol scientists used in their experiment is about the size of a car battery, but Ieropoulos is hoping that it can be further enhanced to be used for many different applications. There are also plans to make the device portable and powerful enough to charge various domestic devices.

The researcher is trying to earn a subsidy in order to work with U.S. and South Africa partners to develop a smart toilet. Successfully implemented in domestic  bathrooms, such a system would create enough electricity to power up lighting, showers, electric razors and toothbrushes and mobile phones, he said.

What do you think of the Bristol scientists’ experiment? Would you use a urine-powered fuel cell to charge your devices?

[Image via Gizmag]