Hydrogen power has long been hampered by the lack of an inexpensive, renewable fuel. As it turns out, the solution may be right underneath us. Researchers at Ohio University have discovered that hydrogen can be produced from urine using an electrolytic process at only a fraction of the cost of generating hydrogen from water.
Researcher Geraldine Botte and team used the fact that hydrogen molecules in urea are less tightly bound than those in water to create an inexpensive nickel-based electrode that efficiently oxidizes urea. A voltage of .037V is required to break down urea. In comparison, 1.23V are required to break down water.
Up until this point, Botte has used synthetic urine made out of dissolved urea in her experiments, but she believes that human urine could be used just as easily. Next up: long term stability studies on the electrolysis system. Eventually, the system could be scaled up to produce hydrogen while also removing effluent from sewage plants.
The Ohio University discovery could one day produce hydrogen-powered cars that are competitive with EVs, but it will probably be many years before urine-fueled hydrogen is used commercially in vehicles. By the time it’s ready, the growing EV infrastructure may overshadow any advancements in hydrogen power.