this is not the kind of tech we usually talk about here, but it is undeniably cool
A scientist at Ohio University has developed a catalyst capable of extracting hydrogen from urine. That’s right. Urine. Now you can fill one tank while draining another.
Garardine Botte claims the device uses significantly less energy than is needed to extract hydrogen from water and says it could power hydrogen fuel cell vehicles in the near future. Her electrolyzer uses a nickel-based electrode to extract hydrogen from urea (NH2)2CO, the main component in urine. Hydrogen is less tightly bound to the nitrogen in urea than to the oxygen in water, so the electrolyzer needs just 0.37 volts across the cell to oxidize the urea, according to Botte. That’s less than half the amount of energy in an AA battery and considerably less than the 1.23 volts needed to split water.
One of hydrogen’s biggest stumbling blocks to use as an alternative fuel is the amount of energy needed to produce it. And then there’s the matter of distributing it. Botte says her gadget eliminates such problems because it’s small enough to integrate into an automobile. Urine is also readily available — your body produces two to three liters of it each day, and it is the most abundant form of waste on the planet. We could treat waste water while fueling our cars.
“Urea is the same stuff we use to fertilize our flower beds. It’s a solid that dissolves in water and is therefore easy to move,” Botte told Wired.com. “An electrolyzer built into a car would eliminate the need for a hydrogen storage tank, and with the right partnership, I believe we could have pee-powered cars capable of 60 miles per gallon on the road within a year.”
Botte’s current electrolyzer prototype is about the size of a pair of CD jewel cases and can produce up to 500 milliwatts of power. That’s pretty small, but Ohio University has patented the technology and Botte says it could be scaled up to power hybrid and electric vehicles or anything else running on electricity.
“We are currently working on the chemistry of the electrolyzer,” she said. “The next step is the engineering, which should flow just fine. It would involve increasing the size of the electrolyzer, making it more efficient and testing its long-term stability.”
She says the cost of developing the technology for conventional cars would all depend on what’s powering the car. The electrolyzer would have to pull energy from a power source like a battery in order to produce hydrogen for a fuel cell. Botte also is examining how the electrolyzer could draw the power it needs from a solar panel. Hooking it up to a rooftop solar panel — like the one on the 2010 Toyota Prius — could increase efficiency as much as 40 percent, she said.
Botte hasn’t gotten much in the way of federal funding for the project, though she is working with the Department of Defense to develop electrolyzer technology for military use.
“Years ago, the army pushed to develop hydrogen technology in order to eliminate the use of noisy generators when out in the field or in order to deal with what’s called the ’silent camp problem,’” Botte said. “The problem they were running into out in the desert was access to large amounts of clean water. The electrolyzer, however, eliminates the need for clean water other than drinking water and to transport fuel to remote areas.”