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back to article Teen project sparks WORLD-WIDE PEE-POWERED HYPEGASM!

File this one under “pending”: a group of African students has shown a hydrogen-powered generator at Maker Faire Africa in Lagos that uses urine as its fuel source. Maker Faire Lagos put the story here, crediting Duro-Aina Adebola, Akindele Abiola, Faleke Oluwatoyin and Bello Eniola with the build. And what a sensation it’s …

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Sounds a bit perpetual motion to me. 1 litre of diesel wouldn't run any worthwhile size of generator for 6 hours; and you're having to input power to split the H and the O to prime the pump, as it were, before you start.

Could be something flashy going on with the nitrogen and phosphorus commonly found in urine, but there just doesn't seem to be enough energy (even if you account for the heat energy) going in to back up the claims.

DISCLAIMER: Based on gut feeling and a bit of scanning Wikipedia rather than actual science and specialist knowledge

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If there was lots of free energy in urine, bacteria would be jetting out of the gully in every street corner.

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I think you're misunderstanding the point of the invention.

Nobody is claiming that they are getting out more energy that they are putting in. They are using solar power to generate electricity to split urine and generate hydrogen, which can then be stored and transported as a usable fuel. You might not want to crack regular water to do this as it's quite a scarce resource in some places, so why not use the waste water in urine instead?

If the kit was designed just to store electricity, then charging batteries would seem a much more obvious and efficient use of the solar panels. In this case though, you can in theory use the hydrogen to drive a vehicle or in other areas where batteries are less practical.

In any case, we'll know if it was a viable technology or not if an oil company has them all shot by the end of the month...

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> an oil company has them all shot

Not that liberal stuff again.

Seriously, where are the solar panels?

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@Dan

" ...use the hydrogen to drive a vehicle or in other areas where batteries are less practical."

Compressing and then storing hydrogen under pressure takes energy and infrastructure. It also takes maintenance effort on the compressor and storage containers to prevent them from becoming extremely dangerous, instead of just very dangerous. I'd prefer batteries if at all possible.

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Anonymous Coward

Just use batteries FFS

Generating hydrogen via electrolysis is, at best, only around 30% efficient (last I looked at least).

It's so bad, in fact, that 95% of commercial hydrogen production comes from hydrocarbons (read: fossil fuels) - which is 80% efficient.

When you consider the rest of the efficiency losses from a system like this (I'm guessing that generator is no more than 40% efficient, and energy is required to pressurize the hydrogen too... batteries are a *much* more efficient approach. Not to mention simpler to troubleshoot and maintain.

Looks like a solution in search of a problem to me... and what problems it seems to be aimed at are already better addressed via existing tech.

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"Not that liberal stuff again."

Are you sure that word means what you think it means?

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Oh yes.

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Anonymous Coward

Phone Sir David Steel and ask him what that means in UK then ;) He might be willing to tell you a bit about Whigs and Toraighs too :P

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Anonymous Coward

Already been asked

http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20080909020338AAbFHxY

It looks to be around 450 ml. Not sure what size generator they are using, but a nano-generator might do it..

I sent an email to Nigeria looking for clarification and to my amazement, I discovered a long lost business acquaintance of Sir Edmund Hillary and they need my assistance with transferring a large sum of money where I get part of the proceeds and the rest will be used to create a urination inducing drug and long catheters to power these new generators. I've already sent my bank account number and personal details. I guess I won't be hanging around here with you sorry suckers much longer ... I'm in da money !

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beat me to it

Shirley the word "Lagos" in the article should have a few eyebrows raised... not saying it's not possible for anything truly innovative to come from there, but given the track record of being promised a large return for just a very small initial investment I'd say this *could* be the first scientific 419 scam.

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Pint

Re: beat me to it

Its the second actually, and Steorn were the first when it comes to taking the piss too: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steorn

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Re: Already been asked

They won't give the money to you. They promised it to me. They said your guy was a liar and a thief but my guy is a former priest and swore an oath to god to never lie

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Anonymous Coward

Re: beat me to it

Will ye just pass us over the feckin' Orbo, there's a good lad Deano, go wan yersel!

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Anonymous Coward

Re: beat me to it

Steorn are rank amateurs compared to the run-for-the-AC-switch E-Cat crowd, paging Mr Rossi...

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Meh

Conductivity?

A while back I did some basic work on building an electrolysis kit with the idea of making hydrogen for balloons. It didn't work, but I did some reading up on the effects of dissolving stuff in the water to increase the ion thingy count to make the liquid more conductive and, hopefully, make it dissociate faster.

What I found can be summarised thus: it's complicated, and I didn't understand it.

But regardless of how conductive the water is, you're still not going to get away from the core energy requirements of 286kJ per mole needed to break up the water molecules. The only advantage of increasing conductivity is that it lets you push more energy through and so do it faster. Urine is jam-packed with dissolved salts and so may make a good candidate for electrolysis.

(My electrolysis kit produced a few bubbles but nothing useful.)

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Conductivity?

Re making hydrogen for balloons, I remember my dad doing this for us a couple times:

Put some water with caustic soda in a thick glass coke bottle (1.5l I think), then drop in pieces of rolled up aluminium foil, and put the balloon over the bottle opening. Generates enough pressure to blow up a balloon (although maybe stretch it out first by filling it with air).

The bottle gets pretty damn hot, and it's frikkin' dangerous, so don't bother trying. Last time he did it was probably about 1992. There's much more H+S awareness nowadays around here.

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Dehydrated?

If their pee is strong enough to power a generator I suggest they probably ought to be drinking more water.

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Pint

Re: Dehydrated?

"If their pee is strong enough to power a generator I suggest they probably ought to be drinking more water."

And less vodka

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Childcatcher

Well thats the power of...

Taking the pee...

Doesnt electrolysis require electricity? :-) which then makes it inefficient...

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Boffin

Gas check!

That repurposed cooking gas bottle sure looks dodgy. Fill it with hydrogen?

Where's the compressor?

We can at least check whether it will explode like a pez dispenser.

Let's see... 6h juice for a 40 W bulb demands 864 kJ; let's round up to 1 MJ.

With hydrogen's energy density of 33.3 kWh/kg, we need ~8g when perfectly efficient.

Hydrogen density at 1013 mbar / 20 °C is 84 g/m³, so we need 95 l at normal pressure. Let's say 100l.

That cooking gas cylinder holds ~10 l, so we compress the ~100l down and increase the pressure to 10 atmospheres .... which indeed is the actual pressure expected of cooking gas bottles.

Well, at least the storage holds (I suspect the hydrogen will escape more easily than butane)

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Urea to H2

Yes you can get H2 from Urea in piss. For example

http://www.ohio.edu/outlook/08-09/November/194.cfm

But nothing like the amount they would need to run a generator.

Takes way to much energy to split water, better to just use a battery.

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Boffin

Quick calculations

The main hydrogen constituents of urine are water, urea and creatinine. Assuming Wikipedia is correct in how much of each are in urine and the average density of urine is 1033 g/L we get an approximate mass of hydrogen being 109.66 g. Given there are 123 MJ of energy in every kilogram of Hydrogen then 1L of urine contains 13.5 MJ of energy due to hydrogen. Now, there are 21,600 seconds in 6 hours so simple division gives us 13,500,000 joules / 21,600 seconds = 625 watts. If we assume 20% efficiency for the engine/generator that leaves 125 watts available for use. That might not sound like much but it would certainly charge a cell phone as required, provide enough energy to run a reasonably efficient refrigerator and maybe even keep enough CFLs lit to keep the critters of the night at bay. How much power do you really need?

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Re: Quick calculations

You see, I've looked at this and to me it does stack up. Your calculations show it is perfectly plausible.

They're not cracking hydrogen out of water, the hydrogen comes from the urea which requires a lot less energy. There probably is enough energy in the urea to power the generator for the times given.

You don't need to pressurise your gas if you don't intend to store it, remember they aren't making hydrogen for use later, the generator is running off of the hydrogen as it's produced.

So instead of rubbishing the work and saying it doesn't work, these girls should be applauded for doing some pretty neat science.

Is this going to solve he worlds energy problems? Of course not, you have to insert urine at a rate of 1L every 6 hours and since the important component is the urea you going to need proper, first thing in the morning, piss to make it work. That doesn't mean the system itself isn't working.

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Vic
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Re: Quick calculations

> there are 123 MJ of energy in every kilogram of Hydrogen

123MJ in every Kg of hydrogen *gas*.

There is essentially *no* hydrogen gas in urine, just lots of hydrogen ions.

You need to pump energy in to reduce those ions back to atoms...

Vic.

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Re: Quick calculations

Indeed! Let's have less poopooing on the economic viability, etc and lots more "congratulations, young ladies" for a clever school science project.

The rest of you lot: jaded much?

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Re: Quick calculations

Sadly people from the First World discount ideas from the third world all too easily. If I was a cynic I'd say that the bunch of smartarses on here would have poo-pooed William Kamkwamba's wind mill in Malawi too.

People interested in improving the livelihoods of people in impoverished/less-developed areas took an interest in his idea because it was a good idea for his circumstances and because he used the knowledge gleaned from his library to build it. Now, because of that simple idea, he is a TED speaker and a driver behind improving the lives of many others in his community and elsewhere.

Just having electricity, even if it's just to light one bulb, is already a big deal in rural areas. These school kids deserve credit for looking at solutions that us Westerners would snigger at, simply because their solution might be well-suited for their environment. Science will improve the lives of the locals, especially when it is locals who thought it up, built it, proved the concept and made something from it.

I say well done to these kids.

(Yeah yeah, downvote me already)

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Re: Quick calculations

@Fuzz; Most of the hydrogen comes from the water not the urea. The urea contributes less than one percent.

@Vic; The amount of energy in hydrogen isn't really dependent on which material phase it's in unless you really care about that 1/2 MJ/kg. I'm sure there are some hydrogen ions in there but given urine has a pH range of about 5 to 8 it isn't much of a contributor and no I don't care if they are anions or cations. Finally, did you miss the bit about them using an electrolytic cell to extract the hydrogen? In essence it pumps energy in to break the molecular bonds and allows the hydrogen to be extracted.

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Vic
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Re: Quick calculations

> isn't really dependent on which material phase

Yes, but we're not talking about material phases, are we? We're talking about whether or not energy can be released from the hydrogen. It's really rather difficult to release energy from hydrogen ions - you need an awful lot of heat and pressure to do that, and that's not available in the middle of Lagos just yet.

> I'm sure there are some hydrogen ions in there

I'm sure that essentially all the hydrogen is ionised.

> no I don't care if they are anions or cations

That's very generous of you. How do you propose to release energy from hydrogen ions? You can't burn them, you know.

> did you miss the bit about them using an electrolytic cell to extract the hydrogen?

No. I just see it for what it is - a *very* inefficient way of storing a small amount of energy developed somewhere else. None of this hydrogen malarkey is helping in the slightest; a simple lead-acid accumulator would be a far better way of storing energy on this scale.

> it pumps energy in to break the molecular bonds and allows the hydrogen to be extracted.

Yes. What you've failed to realise is that the amount of energy used to break those bonds is significantly greater than the energy that will be released once the hydrogen is used - and that's assuming that you haven't just lost it to leakage.

Anything that looks like a "free energy" machine is doomed to failure by way of the Law of Conservation of Energy.

Vic.

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Re: SP

"...solutions that us Westerners would snigger at, simply because their solution might be well-suited for their environment."

This is a great science project but let's be fair... compared to a windmill or solar panel hooked to battery banks, this is might as well have been built by Rube Goldberg. It is, most certainly, nothing like a William Kamkwamba windmill.

If you are really interested in the lives of people in impoverished/less-developed areas there are many more practical efforts you could get behind: the Q Drum, biosand filters, water wells, permaculture design/training for farming, use of protector animals for ranching (not always possible but in some cases can help), and finally to your point... windmills/solar panels for electricity.

These girls should be applauded for a GREAT experiment... but let's not kid ourselves that it's practical.

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Re: Quick calculations

"Yes, but we're not talking about material phases, are we?"

Actually, I thought you were when you stated;

"123MJ in every Kg of hydrogen *gas*."

I merely pointed out that it wouldn't matter if it was a solid brick of hydrogen, it would still have roughly the same amount of energy available for the same chemical reaction.

"How do you propose to release energy from hydrogen ions? You can't burn them, you know."

Uh, once you get the hydrogen out with the electrolytic cell it will burn just fine, that's the point. Ions have little to do with it and perhaps this and this will help clear things up. I think you're confused between what the kids are doing and another process as the only heat and pressure that these kids need is in the combustion chamber of the tiny engine they have.

Also, I didn't say it was efficient and I agree on that point. In fact I was probably being a bit generous saying the generator efficiency was 20% as it is probably less considering the engine likely isn't optimized for running on hydrogen who knows how good the electrical side is or its condition. I will say the amount of energy used to break those bonds is about 123 MJ per kilogram which, not so coincidentally, is exactly what comes out. The fact that inefficiency exists in the system means it isn't perpetual motion or "free energy" and is why it will take putting more energy than that into the electrolytic cell to get the hydrogen and only 20% or less will come out of the generator. Let's be honest they probably aren't using rare and expensive metals in their electrolytic cell so in total the process efficiency might be as high as 10% on a good day. Overall that's pretty poor since from the numbers I put above it's right on par with a 63 amp hour 12 volt car battery. In the long run, AC@18:35 has it right, it's an experiment, an interesting way of learning for these kids and if it's all there is then it's certainly better than nothing.

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Vic
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Re: Quick calculations

> it would still have roughly the same amount of energy available for the same chemical reaction.

If it were atomic or molecular hydrogen, that would be true. But it isn't - it's H+ ions. And they don't burn.

> once you get the hydrogen out with the electrolytic cell it will burn just fine

Yes, but to get the hydrogen out with the cell requires more energy than you will get back from the hydrogen. The cell is a net energy loss.

> I think you're confused

I'm not confused in the slightest. I am merely annoyed that people keep promoting energy sinks as energy sources. This cell idea is an energy sink.

> and another process as the only heat and pressure that these kids need

Yeah, as you seem to have entirely missed the point, the process I was talking about by which you can extract energy from hydrogen ions is nuclear fusion. It worries me that I have to spell it out in such detail.

> I didn't say it was efficient and I agree on that point

You seem to have missed the boat on *how* inefficient it is; the power used to drive the cell would be better put into a simple battery. That would leave much more energy available as electricity. Pumping it through this hydrogen cycle leaves less energy available for use than if it had not been used in the first place.

This isn't a case of "it could be better", it's a case of "it would be better not to bother".

> I will say the amount of energy used to break those bonds is about 123 MJ per kilogram

You're assuming 100% efficiency. This does not occur at all, but in a heat engine - which is in use in this cycle - the absolute maximum efficiency that can be achieved is 1-(Tc/Th), where Tc and Th are measured in kelvin. Given a Th somewhere in the region of 500K - which is probably being a bit generous - and a Tc of around 300K, the absolute maximum efficiency that can be achieved with absolutely ideal, perfect components is 40%. This is being generous, as in practice it's going to be half that. Compare that to >80% efficiency just storing the energy in a battery, and you have a better picture of why this is such a waste of time.

> The fact that inefficiency exists in the system means it isn't perpetual motion or "free energy"

Precisely so. It is, in fact, a *waste* of energy. Significantly more energy would be available if the whole electrolysis thing was just abandoned.

> only 20% or less will come out of the generator.

THat's 20% or so *of the energy put into the generator*. You've already lost ~50% of your energy in the electrolysis cell, leaving around 10% of the inoput energy coming out of the generator. In other words, you have to pump into the system 10 times the amount of energy you get out of the back of it. Alternatively, you could just not bother with the system and use the energy you're feeding it more effectively elsewhere.

> in total the process efficiency might be as high as 10% on a good day.

So why use it? You've got 100% available from the energy source, or 10% of that energy after you've wasted 90% in an electrolysis / heat engine combination. I really fail to see why you are championing a setup that just wastes energy.

> it's an experiment, an interesting way of learning for these kids

And as a bit of fun, that's just fine. As a source of energy, it is very far from it.

Vic.

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Re: Quick calculations

Lets try from the other end.

Honda's smallest generator is 1000 W max.

At 25% load it will run for about 3.5 hours on 1L of gasoline.

http://powerequipment.honda.ca/generators/inverter-series/eu1000ikc2

If you think you can get more energy from 1L of piss then 1L of gasoline I've got some cold fusion plans to sell you.

It also looks like your including the Hydrogen in the water (check how much energy it takes to split water).

Maybe you would also be interested in my special magnet kit that will allow your car to run on water.

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Pint

I recall and article...

...in Wired magazine some months ago which said that it was easier to extract hydrogen from urea than from pure water. I can't remember the article saying why this was, but David Given's earlier post hints at what might be the answer.

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Re: I recall and article...

-> http://www.rsc.org/chemistryworld/news/2009/july/02070902.asp

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Re: I recall and article...

"http://www.rsc.org/chemistryworld/news/2009/july/02070902.asp"

In a neat piece of nominative determinism the lead researcher is a B K Boggs.

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Re: I recall and article...

Yes Hydrogen can be extracted from urea (see my first post). They are working on a system for the military, but it's not just the electricity (produced from a fuel cell) that makes it worth while, it also produces drinkable water (and Ammonia as a waste product).

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I've been considering...

The possibilities of running a generator on gullibility, but I'm afraid it'd just explode from input overload!

Hmm, maybe DARPA'd be interested in that. (Where'd I put that grant submission form?)

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Sorry, one big problem

Hydrogen is difficult to store. Most containers just don't hold it and they leak. Add to that that hydrogen is pretty corrosive, and makes metal containers pretty brittle. Of course, as others have noted, you need to compress the gas a bunch to get it into a container to use it. Now after you have the stuff, you need to use it. Not easy to do, as it really isn't an easy to use fuel. Sure, there are fuel cells, but they are big to generate anything useful in the way of voltage at any current. It might be easier to use the hydrogen to combine with some of the ugly carbon to make methane.

All in all not easy to do. For me: I'll stick with what works and still fuel my vehicle (a nice bug SUV) with gasoline/petrol like all us ugly Americans do, much as our re-elected president doesn't like it.

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Paris Hilton

Re: Sorry, one big problem

Hmm ... pee is difficult to store as well, once you reach a full bladder at around 650mL. After that, most bladders leak. Difficult for most females to transfer urine to other containers, as well, even with a great deal of practice.

Paris -- owner of much-displayed transfer system

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Sorry, one big problem

Downvoted just for being an arse re the "Paris - transfer system" comment

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Pint

That's all the UK needs now is pee powered pubs.

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Boffin

Back of the envelope calculation...

Two litre petrol engine requires about ten cubic metres of air an hour to tickover. Assume, for the sake of argument, a 250cc engine, which will require about a metre and a quarter, all else being equal. Since a mol of any gas occupies the same volume at constant pressure and temperature, it will need about 40% of that 1.25 metres of air.

So the first question is: can that demonstrated hardware produce half a cubic metre of hydrogen an hour?

Assuming that the fluid is mostly water and the electrolytes are there just to help the reaction along, internet 'research' reveals about 4700 litres of H2 are available from a gallon of water. The size of that battery? Dunno - let's give it half a gallon to be friendly. That runs to 2350 litres of H2, two and a bit cubic metres.

So the hydrogen is *available*... whether it's extractable as fast as the engine can burn it, now that's another question which sadly I don't have time at the moment to think about!

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Anonymous Coward

Surely..

...it would be better to poo in a tank, tap off the methane and use that to power a generator?

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Coat

No more pee stops when driving an electric car!

title says it all.

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Anonymous Coward

Is someone taking the

P. ?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Is someone taking the

Congratulations, admire the shine on your "Today's Most Obvious Quip" award.

Everybody else thought it was too obvious to bother, but you sir, well done you.

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Boffin

Check this out ...

...before writing it off as a "perpetual motion machine":

http://www.rsc.org/chemistryworld/news/2009/july/02070902.asp

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Re: Check this out ...

That's entirely the problem, electrolysis requires electricity. From paragraph 4 of your link, "To break the molecule down, a voltage of 0.37V needs to be applied across the cell - much less than the 1.23V needed to split water." In the photos, where is the electricity source that is supplying the electrolytic cell?

Although possibly true an equally likely explanation is that this contraption is exactly what it appears to be, a car battery connected to an inverter with a light bulb on the end. The green tank (which looks like an old refrigerant bottle), water filters, "one-way valves" (which look like in-line fuel filters from a car) and in fact the generator itself appear to be just decorations.

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I knew that storing all my urine in bottles in the attic would pay off one day.

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