Urine: The Hydrogen Fuel of the Future?

Could this be what the future of fuel looks like?

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Pee. What can’t it do? From its reputable use as a fertilizer to questionable use as a hangover cure, urine has way more uses than you might imagine (or even want to know in the first place). Seriously. Some people even claim drinking it makes you healthier. Sounds completely quack to me, but what do I know?

Actually. Scratch that. This I know: drinking your own pee is universally questionable behavior.

But in the realm of interesting uses for your own bodily fluids, using urine as a source of hydrogen to power the cars of the future is a serious undertaking and based on completely sound science.

People have known for a long time that you can generate hydrogen easily by running a current through water to split it into its component parts — oxygen and hydrogen — using a process called electrolysis. The problem is that the amount of energy needed to split the water is relatively large and the materials required are very expensive (although last year some MIT scientists created a brand new cheap catalyst that they say changes all that).

Urine to the rescue. Now some researchers at Ohio University have found that urine makes a much better starting point for generating hydrogen than water. The hydrogen found in urine is bonded much more loosely than in water. So loose, in fact, that by using simple and cheap materials hydrogen can be generated from urine using 1/3 of the voltage needed to make hydrogen from water.

The researchers see a much wider application for this technology in wastewater treatment plants by generating hydrogen while treating the waste simultaneously.

The Ohio University researchers are not alone in their quest for “gold.” Last month we reported on an entry into the Automotive X-Prize that uses urine as its source of hydrogen. Dubbed “ZeroFuel,” the team’s concept seems very similar to the Ohio University researchers approach. Perhaps they should be working together?

Source: Royal Society of Chemistry

Image Credit: FaceMePLS‘s Flickr Photostream. Used under a Creative Commons License.

Nick Chambers

Not your traditional car guy.