'Pee-power' to be commercialised with help of new grant

Issue date: 25 July 2016


'Pee-power' is set to go global as it receives further funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation that will help the research team at the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol) to develop a commercial 'Pee Power' product, with multiple applications.

A small number of projects get to this final stage on this funding programme, which is highly competitive and UWE Bristol joins successful projects from some of the worlds' top research universities.

'Pee Power' uses urine as fuel that feeds microbial fuel cells (MFCs) to generate electricity. The project has hit several milestones since it began in 2011. This includes using urine fed MFCs to charge mobile phones and to generate electricity for lighting.

Working with external partners such as Oxfam and Dunster House - refugee shelter manufacturers, the team have been investigating a range of ideas where the technology can be applied to the greater good to provide lighting for toilets and mobile phone charging stations in refugee camps, in areas of the world where there is no infrastructure to deal with sanitation waste and using the by-product of the process for fertiliser.

Professor Ioannis Ieropoulos, Director of the Bristol Bioenergy Centre at Bristol Robotics Laboratory (BRL) at UWE Bristol, said, “It's a great achievement for the team to be selected for Phase-III funding and now we are excited about the potential to take this work forward – it really can make a positive change for underprivileged people living in difficult circumstances”.

“Phase-III funding is truly the catalyst that will allow our technology to make it out there into the real world.

This autumn the team is placing MFC stacks into urinals at two different locations, in two different continents. These field trials mark an important milestone, both in terms of our objectives, but also in terms of the sanitation agenda in the countries the MFC technology will be installed and trialled.

“We have come a long way since we won initial Phase-I funding in 2011 with a relatively small grant for $100k that kick started our research work,” says Professor Ieropoulos. “Since that time we have made some very exciting discoveries and we are at a stage where we have five potential avenues that could make a real difference for people in areas of poor sanitation, are off grid and in refugee and disaster relief camps.

“The project will help people in rural areas of the world where sanitation is non-existent by providing a solution that does not require expensive plumbing infrastructure to enable each home to have a toilet – a luxury for millions around the world. The process of cleansing the urine has the by-product of generating electricity so the toilet could in fact become a power and sanitation unit in each home providing lighting and charging for electronic devices, even potentially for other uses. For example, one by-product from the process can be used to develop fertiliser and for irrigation.

“We know that the next crucial stage of taking the research to product and manufacture is full of challenges. The Phase-III funding will help us navigate through this maze so that we can see the work being applied in the way that we have been envisioning for years.”

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