Over the last two days, Lagos, Nigeria has hosted Maker Faire Africa, the Maker movement’s bastion on that continent. One of the most impressive and surprising devices displayed there is a device that uses a material we all have ready access to in order to power an engine. That’s right: four girls, aged 13 and 14, have created a prototype generator that runs on urine.
For one liter of urine (about half what a person produces in a day), the generator will six hours of electricity. The process works by separating the hydrogen out of the urine, and then using it to power the generator.
Take a deep breath, though. This isn’t some sort of perpetual motion machine powered by pee. The separating of the hydrogen from the urine requires a source of electricity–and quite a bit of it. While the ammonia and urea in your urine make it easier to separate the hydrogen than it is to separate hydrogen from water (which is why we can’t use water as a power source) this generator still requires a large power input to work in the first place. You couldn’t just set this up in your bathroom and power your house from your toilet.
That said, other, more established scientists are pursuing urine as a power source, and so we can do nothing but tip our caps to these four girls for doing some serious technology leap-frogging: with very limited supplies and (we assume) no graduate degrees, they’ve managed to create a device on the cutting edge of power generation.