UWE Bristol showcases 'Pee Power' at Glastonbury Festival

Issue date: 24 June 2015


Toilets have always been one of the big talking points at Glastonbury, but this year the festival audience are being invited to put their pee to good use by providing fuel for the 'Pee Power' project. The project is led by the Bristol BioEnergy Centre in the Bristol Robotics Laboratory at the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol) in collaboration with Oxfam and Dunster House.

The University is also scoping how a portable water treatment plant might help improve water sustainability by reducing the huge water footprint at a future festival. These two research projects are being developed to improve lives in refugee camps set up in areas suffering the impacts of environmental disaster and war zones as well as off grid areas of the world that do not have sanitation or electricity infrastructure.

Both projects have sustainable, environmental and humanitarian principles that resonate with the agencies and charities Glastonbury Festival has supported since it began.

The 'Pee-Power' or 'Urine-tricity project' received global media attention when it was announced earlier this year.

Festival goers can take a pee in the specially adapted urinal that has been installed in the Sacred Space field. The original urinal design that was launched earlier this year has been scaled up to provide a urinal with three troughs which will collect the urine from festival-goers and use it to 'feed' microbial fuel cells (MFCs), visible through clear Perspex containers.

The urine is used as a biofuel that generates enough electricity to light up the urinal.

In the same field a stall will offer educational information explaining the ideas and the technology behind the project.

Professor Ioannis Ieropoulos, Director of the Bristol BioEnergy Centre, said:

“Festival toilets have always been a talking point but the pee power unit shows how all that urine can be put to good use as a bio-fuel. We are keen to share how the technology works and to develop its potential for use in a wide range of sites.

“The microbial fuel cells are like batteries that do not run out, since they can use urine as a fuel for direct electricity generation, which is done by live bacteria consuming urine for their growth and maintenance.

“The MFC technology is, in effect, a system that taps a portion of that biochemical energy used for microbial growth, and converts it directly into electricity – hence the name “Urine-tricity” or “Pee power.”

“This technology can utilise any form of organic waste and turn it into useful energy, without relying on fossil fuels, which is something that renders the MFCs green and beneficial to society.”

Andy Bastable, Head of Water and Sanitation at Oxfam, said:

"I'm sure it will come as a relief to festival-goers to know they are contributing towards a brighter future.

"This is just the latest step in a process that could see this exciting technology being used to light refugee camps where there is often no electricity.

"People living in such camps and especially women, face the daily threat of assault in unlit areas."

Dunster House, a UK supplier of wooden garden buildings and offices that also works with aid agencies around the globe, has donated the large structure that has been developed especially for the festival, and has the potential to be used in refugee camps in disaster zones to house the urinal that turns pee into power.

Dunster House Director, Chris Murphy, said:

“Our mission is to help resolve as many humanitarian issues as possible, that is why we are really excited that we can take part in this project.

“Working with specialists from UWE Bristol and big charity organisations like Oxfam ensures we can bring our knowledge and experience to help tackle the sanitation and energy crisis”.

Visit the UWE Bristol YouTube page to see the 'Pee Power' launch video.

Portable water treatment plant

Researchers from UWE will also be scoping out a project to help improve water sustainability at the Glastonbury Festival in future. Over the five day period over 150,000 people will visit the festival and use more than 11 million litres of water. Festival organisers and UWE scientists will be working together to help reduce this huge water footprint.

The project hopes to deploy a portable water treatment plant that uses a novel biocide to disinfect dirty water to produce potable drinking water at future festivals. The treatment unit was developed by a UWE research team in the Centre for Research in Biosciences (CRIB).

This year PhD student Bethany Fox will collect samples of waste shower water from the Festival, to scope out the potential for the water treatment plant to be deployed next year. The team need to verify the suitability of the current filtration system and adapt the unit, if necessary, to deal with the detergents in shower water. In addition to the on-site sampling, 6,000 litres of waste shower water from the Festival will be collected to be used in trials over the coming year.

Visit the UWE Bristol YouTube page to see the Portable Water Plant video.

The system developed at UWE Bristol has been housed in a shipping container to create a portable unit that can be shipped and towed to remote sites around the world. The container unit currently produces three cubic meters of drinking water an hour – enough to meet the basic needs of 1500 people. However, with a larger container this productivity can be expanded to 20 cubic meters an hour, providing drinking water for 10,000 people! This year the team will identify locations where improvements on water use can be made and assess the quality of waste water coming from festival showers.

Professor Darren Reynolds, who leads the project, said:

“Our portable water processing unit is currently being used in Romania and by working with industry partners Pentair, Portsmouth Aviation and Bridge Biotechnology we are ensuring that the technology reaches the people who need it most. We could also use our mobile plant to help treat and recycle water at Glastonbury festival, for example recycling and reusing shower water or treating and reusing the water from the various food stalls on site.

“A novel biocide, developed at UWE Bristol, cleans the water but without the corrosive downside of chlorination. Our aim is to manufacture portable systems that can produce three cubic meters of drinking water every hour. This could make a huge difference to the everyday lives of people in remote areas and potentially during environmental disasters.

Professor Reynolds concluded; “To the many visitors that will visit this year's festival it will be an amazing experience of music and culture but for us it is a great opportunity to apply our research to a real-world problem.”

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