Zach Koppang | Shale Plays Media
Everybody has to answer nature’s call, and soon the undignified act of visiting the restroom in the middle of the night might also be able to power the lights guiding the way back to bed.
In a study published last week in Nature, South Korean researchers demonstrated that carbon, a crucial component used in fuel cells and an excellent conductor of electricity, can be derived from dried urine. A fuel cell is a device that creates electricity from the reactions of certain chemicals. Metals such as platinum are commonly used to stimulate the reaction but are expensive enough to prompt researchers to look for cheaper alternatives such as carbon.
While the use of manufactured carbon nanotubes has been contemplated, the costs remain high. After collecting samples of urine, the researchers heated the waste to between 1300 and 1800 degrees Fahrenheit in order to burn off unwanted elements and salts in favor of the remaining, highly permeable carbonate.
The carbon-pee proved to be a highly efficient electrical conductor, offering hope that it may one day be collected as an abundant and economical resource. The process would require large collection pools for the yellow to mellow in before being evaporated and before the collection of the remaining carbonate.
Researchers are hopeful that the process will not only help create more economical fuel cells, but also help to reduce the amount of pollutants entering our water supplies.