back to article Boffins want toilets to become POWER PLANTS

Dr Ioannis Ieropoulos and colleagues from the University of the West of England's Bristol outpost and the Bristol Robotics Laboratory have claimed a world's first: powering a mobile phone with human urine. Detailed in the paper Waste to Real Energy: the first MFC powered mobile phone in the journal Physical Chemistry Chemical …

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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Brits cycling in France should have a good supply of battery charge then ;)

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Scorched ar*es and blown up balls from backfiring thunderboxes?

      Death by exploding commode?

      Doesn't bear thinking about.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      @_RCH_

      Why 'Brits', I thought it was Americans that were always the ones full of hot air?

      Or Drugs in the case of Lance Armstrong.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      POWER GENERATION

      power generation in India would be huge, from all the curry they eat.

  2. This post has been deleted by its author

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: New, power toilets!

      ... I believe this is where the concept for the Matrix film originated from?

  3. Sir Barry

    I'm waiting for the Apple iPiss or the Microsoft Win 8 Shitphone.....

    1. chr0m4t1c

      You don't think we'll see anything from Poogle, then?

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

      2. Ken Y-N
        Joke

        Hemodrrhoid v4.2, codename Jacksie Cream

        I hear the bugs in it are a pain the arse, though.

      3. James 36
        Coat

        Optional

        google arsevoid ?

        mine's the one with the HTC in pocket

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      I'm waiting for the Microsoft Win 8 Shitphone.....

      They started releasing those ages ago.

  4. John P

    Stop!

    <pedant>

    What is it with El Reg this morning? This is the third story I've read with glaring grammatical errors, the others being http://www.theregister.co.uk/2013/07/17/australia_reduces_microsoft_license_fees_by_aud100m_for_second_time/

    and

    http://www.theregister.co.uk/2013/07/17/spacewalk_aborted_after_helmet_fills_with_water/

    Is the coffee machine broken?

    </pedant>

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Stop!

      Send corrections to them if you have the time, and if it bothers you that much. The editors tend to appreciate it.

      1. frank ly Silver badge

        Re: Stop!

        I got a polite and friendly response the last time I submitted a correction. Try it.

      2. Stevie Silver badge

        Re: Stop!

        "Send corrections to them if you have the time, and if it bothers you that much. The editors tend to appreciate it."

        Though if you get it wrong you might get yelled at in caps and sworn at in Finnish.

    2. auburnman
      Happy

      Re: Stop!

      Proofreading has been outsourced to schmucks like us who care enough to do it for free. Much as it grinds my gears, with the 24/7 news cycle of today taking the time to proofread every article is probably just too much time and effort for an organisation that provides its news free to its readers.

      I think we should have a national pedant day though, at least one day a year where people are not just encouraged but obliged to rag on every little spelling mistake*. Then we could have a carnival in the evening where someone who habitually writes 'loose' when they mean 'lose' is picked at random an shot as an example to the others.

      * I am aware that this complaint about spelling will have several spelling mistakes

      ** That doesn't have to happen, but it would be nice

      1. frank ly Silver badge

        @auburnman Re: Stop!

        Your '**' footnote doesn't have a corresponding '**' marker in the text of your post.

        1. auburnman
          Facepalm

          Re: @auburnman Stop!

          See '*' footnote re: mistakes in the post.

          (hit submit instead of preview by mistake.)

      2. disgruntled yank Silver badge

        Re: Stop!

        http://xkcd.com/1238/

      3. C 18
        Big Brother

        Re: Stop!

        >Proofreading has been outsourced to schmucks like us...

        This is the inevitable progress of the internet.

        Google did it to train their in-house algorithms, although they at least offered some money to the verification schmucks.

        More and more corporates will use more and more of their consumer base as an extended (gratis) workforce.

        Shareholders and directors love this type of thing.

        I hope some erudite peruser of these comments can refer me to a fictional version of this type of thing in the collection of dystopian novels that we've accumulated.

      4. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Stop!

        @auburnman: "I think we should have a national pedant day though, at least one day a year where people are not just encouraged but obliged to rag on every little spelling mistake."

        Isn't that just about every day on just about every forum - including this one?

        (I swear, it seems to me that The Reg is following the same path Slashdot, Reddit, Kuro5hin, and all the other forums follow - serious posts downvoted, only trivial jokes allowed, echo chamber in full effect, deviate from the hivemind and be flamed.)

        1. Martin Budden

          Re: Stop!

          (I swear, it seems to me that The Reg is following the same path Slashdot, Reddit, Kuro5hin, and all the other forums follow - serious posts downvoted, only trivial jokes allowed, echo chamber in full effect, deviate from the hivemind and be flamed.)

          Just like RL then ;-)

          Must be that hoomin naycha thing I've heard about.

  5. Richard Wharram

    Truckers' pop

    So if I collect 20 of the coke-bottles of yellow fluid that sit on our motorways' roundabouts I can charge my phone for a day saving myself almost a penny?

    The route to a green future is clear!

    1. Simon Harris Silver badge
      Coat

      Re: Truckers' pop

      Spending a penny to save almost a penny?

      The economics just don't add up!

  6. Steve the Cynic Silver badge

    Showers...

    Article: "into domestic bathrooms to harness the urine and produce sufficient electricity to power showers"

    When I had an electric shower (not a power shower, just an on-the-fly heater), it drew 8kW, so powering it on, um, byproducts may prove difficult. To power a shower for five minutes, you end up needing 2.4MJ or so, which you have to be able to extract from one day's byproducts (assuming you take one shower a day). (I'm ignoring the various inefficiencies related to extraction, insertion into storage, and removal from storage. These inefficiencies are likely to be significant.)

    Sure, MFCs have been used in pilot plants. An Australian brewery produced 2kW from a tank of brewing wastewater. Um, let me make that a little clearer. A 660 gallon tank of brewing wastewater. No chance of powering a shower off your daily human waste, then.

    1. Richard Wharram
      Meh

      Re: Showers...

      The only way you're going to get a warm shower powered by your piss is by... well... pointing up.

      Or at a partner.

      If you like that sort of thing.

      1. rcorrect

        Re: Showers...

        "The only way you're going to get a warm shower powered by your piss is by... well... pointing up.

        Or at a partner.

        If you like that sort of thing."

        What the hell did I just read?

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Showers...

          The implication is that you could aim up, push hard, and let forth a stream of urine, showering you with urine. It would be body temperature, so, yes, a warm shower.

          The second part refers to the sexual practice of what is colloquially known as a "golden shower", whereby one partner enjoys being urinated upon by the other.

          It didn't seem too hard to understand.

          1. Stevie Silver badge

            Re: Showers...

            And yet there was the irresistible urge to explain in detail...

  7. Mystic Megabyte Silver badge
    Flame

    Giant piles of steaming.....

    There are a few farms that heat their houses from big bio-digesters.

    The problem is that if you don't have enormous quantities of crap then you will extract all the heat from it very quickly and the digesting process will stop working.

    1. JDX Gold badge

      Re: Giant piles of steaming.....

      That's through gas harvesting as the stuff rots though, right? This is a more direct approach, collect the energy the microbes use rather than the gas produced as a waste product. Or maybe you can do both... but there is a big difference between collecting methane from crap, and turning urine into an energy source.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Giant piles of steaming.....

      "There are a few farms that heat their houses from big bio-digesters."

      Any decent sized modern sewage treatment works puts the settled sewage sludge through anerobic digestors, and uses the methane for power generation (and the heat to keep the digestors warm). From memory (it was a bit before my time) the huge sewage treatment works that serves Birmingham had English Electric spark ignition generators installed back in about 1967, and some of the London sewage works were using sewage gas around 1910.

      Given the relatively modest power generated from relatively efficient industrial scale plant, I'm not sure that extracting a bit of power from urine will really change the world.

      1. Richard the Head

        Re: Giant piles of steaming.....

        Old Lady nature is pretty efficient at extracting energy from food so the amout of extra energy you can generate from waste is limited. Might be better to collect food waste and use that instead.

        Or am not being as forward thinking as these researchers?

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Giant piles of steaming.....

      A coworker of mine is a glider pilot. He was out in western Kansas, and was losing altitude, and getting ready to find a field into which to land (and then having to call people to bring the trailer out to haul the glider back to his home airport).

      He found a thermal - from the waste of a feed-lot. He said he seriously debated with himself, the convenience of flying back home vs. having to endure the smell, which followed him all the way past 10,000 feet.

      I've always laughed at:

      https://maps.google.com/maps?ll=37.752275,-99.960244&spn=0.015693,0.029869&t=m&z=16

      (from within the confines of my totally-sealed-up, AC on full recirculation, going the speed limit+10 past it car).

  8. Marvin O'Gravel Balloon Face

    Nah, if you want free electricity from your bathroom, and you're not on a meter, just hook up your cold tap to a mini turbine generator and leave it on all day charging a bank of batteries.

    1. JDX Gold badge

      I wonder if anyone ever actually did that, or calculated the energy you could achieve based on a good water pressure?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        "I wonder if anyone ever actually did that, or calculated the energy you could achieve based on a good water pressure?"

        Very little energy - you can calculate the potential energy by the head loss multiplied by the mass, and then just factor in whatever conversion efficiency you see fit. Typical pressure on a household water supply in the UK is about 4 bar (near enough 40 metres of head) , assume you leave the tap running nearly full tilt and you'd be pushing out around 1,000 litres an hour (depends on pipe bores and other head loss), so around a third of a litre per second.

        Factoring in the various parameters (gravity, head loss, density, flow rate) you're looking at around 100 watts before conversion losses, which I'd guess at around 20% minimum.

        In theory that would generate 700 kWh per year. Sadly the water company monitor network losses, and the near 9,000 tonnes of water you'd get through each year running 24/7 would result in investigations to find the leak. On a meter you'd be paying about £3/cubic metre including waste water charges, so to generate 700 kWh with a purchase cost of about £90 would then incur water charges of about £18,000.

        Although in reality they'd just prosecute anybody this daft for wasting water.

        1. Marvin O'Gravel Balloon Face
          Coat

          Damn! I'm back to stealing energy from my phone socket then.

        2. Pascal Monett Silver badge

          Instead of wasting so much water, we could still include a turbine in the last part of the plumbing just before the tap. That way, wherever and whenever you draw water, some energy would be recovered.

          A turbine right before the toilet reserve seems to be a must. Maybe e could put several turbines (probable loss-of-pressure issues there though).

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            "Instead of wasting so much water, we could still include a turbine in the last part of the plumbing just before the tap. That way, wherever and whenever you draw water, some energy would be recovered"

            Of negligible value, though. In the scenario I posited above, the tap was on full bore, and the entire water pressure dissipated. In actual use you often use partial flows, short flows, and want some pressure at the tap all of which erode the potential generation. Your average UK domestic water user gets through about 200 cuic metres a year, so even you always turned the tap on full blast the potential energy is going to be 8 kWh per year, worth around £1 per household.

            So how much are you offering your turbine and generator for?

            1. TeeCee Gold badge

              More importantly, I'm sure that the water companies would spot the additional power consumption at the pumps they use to produce that water pressure and hike their prices accordingly.

              The end effect would be that you'd be buying a very small amount of your electricity from them, via several hideously inefficient conversions.

            2. b166er

              How about turbines in rainwater downpipes?

    2. Stevie Silver badge

      "Nah, if you want free electricity from your bathroom, and you're not on a meter, just hook up your cold tap to a mini turbine generator and leave it on all day charging a bank of batteries."

      A brilliant plan sir, and one that prompts my own humble effort: Mini turbines attached to the end of one's willy to recharge one's cellphone at the end of one's lunchbreak in The Dog and Duck.

      1. Marvin O'Gravel Balloon Face

        Sterling!

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Mini turbines attached to the end of one's willy

        Where can I purchase a nano turbine?

  9. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Thumb Up

    Oh please stop my sides are splitting from the laughter.

    Sadly urine is actually too pure for use as a feedstock, unless you've got a big collection point like a separate circuit for all night club urinals, or bus and train stations.

    If it could handle all human waste (suitably slurried) that would be quite useful.

    This is V 0.1 tech so guess what, it's not very efficient.

    The trouble with fuel cells is the stuff plants most directly produce are sugars not alcohols or methane. I think this approach is promising. I'd like to see one that use microbial chemistry without the microbes (biomemetic) than actual cells.

    A sugar solution would be like any other liquid fuel (except it's most unlikely to burn). Easy to ship, easy to make.

    Thumbs up for this tech.

  10. HFoster

    Capacitors

    It's been a while since I've dealt with them, but I'm pretty sure the dielectric in a capacitor can determine how quickly it discharges. If I remember correctly, USB memory sticks are powered by slow discharging capacitors.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Capacitors

      USB memory sticks are unpowered when not plugged in - they use non-volatile flash memory, and need no power source to maintain data.

      1. HFoster
        Coat

        Re: Capacitors

        Oh...

        Well, then.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    More info needed.

    Specifically, does it generate more energy than I take out of my smartphones battery when going for a 'visit'?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: More info needed.

      does it generate more energy than I take out of my smartphones battery when going for a 'visit'?

      That depends - do you use hands free ? :)

  12. Great Bu

    Brings a new meaning......

    ...to a partial loss of grid electrical power being referred to as a 'brown out'.....

  13. I think so I am?

    what, No

    I think their taking the P*ss

    1. C 18
      Joke

      Re: what, No

      I too was surprised that that pun hadn't cropped up sooner.

      As for the article itself, powerful shit... no doubt...

  14. JimmyPage Silver badge
    Joke

    Why am I reminded ....

    of the line from H2GT2G about needing a receipt every time you go to the toilet ?

  15. rcorrect
    Pint

    Support green energy and have yourself a beer!

    1. relpy

      Damn you Sir!

  16. relpy
    Pint

    I got a Wii-U advert with this...

    Beer - renewable energy.

  17. 7teven 4ect

    Back of a loo-roll calculation:

    Urine is 95% water

    Therefore it is ~5% 'food'

    Let food have an average calorific density of 3 calories per millilitre.

    The average daily urination volume is 1500 ml.

    5% of 1500 is 75. Multiplying by 3 gives us 225 calories in a day's urine.

    That's roughly 10% of our dietary needs.

    Saving 10% off our total energy bill related to getting food from field to stomach.

    Which is massive compared to the amount of energy we can probably extract from waste urine using MFCs.

    Two pieces of advice:

    1. Drink urine

    2. Never admit it

    The author does not drink has own urine.

    1. Kubla Cant Silver badge

      Re: Back of a loo-roll calculation:

      I suspect that you have over-estimated the calorific content of a day's urine. The presence of nutrients such as sugars and proteins in the urine is normally a symptom of illness, so presumably the 5% should be mostly urea.

      It's also not clear whether you're talking calories (i.e. energy to boil a cc of water), or Calories (used in dietary calculations, but strictly kilocalories).

      1. 7teven 4ect
        Paris Hilton

        Re: Back of a loo-roll calculation:

        Thank you for wiping that for me.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Back of a loo-roll calculation:

        Biologists don't do The Register, but if they did, they'd surely point out that there is no evidence in the animal kingdom of the use of urine as a source of calories where calories are scarce while there is plenty of evidence in of the use of urine as a source or water when that's scarce (another option is to excrete a urea paste and hold onto your water like many desert lizards do).

        calories with a small c would be closer the mark. 0.225 calories per day's urine - about the same calories you'd find in 2/3 of a sunflower seed.

        Would you bother with a sunflower seed if it was the size of a 4-pint bottle yet had the same calories as 1 and a third sunflower seeds?

        It's no joke. I have a friend who went insane because of that confusion over calories vs kilocalories.

  18. TeeCee Gold badge
    Coat

    "...pee-powered phone..."

    Come that day, piss will be Apple Juice.

  19. Evil Auditor Silver badge
    Pint

    Alternatives

    How does this compare to peeing on a micro turbine/propelling a dynamo? Or extracting energy from the heat of sewage?

    Not that any of these would exclude the use of MFCs or each other. I'm only wondering where the highest potential is and hence worth exploiting.

    (Beer icon as beer would probably be a major source of energy in this regard.)

  20. John 110

    I've said it before and I'll say it again

    Bob Shaw

    Urin-8

    That is all

  21. Stevie Silver badge

    Bah!

    Saw this "power your house with your own excrement" idea worked out in The Domebook (or was it The Whole Earth Catalog?) in 1974.

    I still think the idea is a pile of crap.

  22. Brian Miller
    Terminator

    All hail our machine overlords

    First it was machines eating corpses on the battlefields, and now they're going to be milking us for urine between battles.

    I don't like the future. I don't like it one bit.

  23. Tapeador

    Aaaah

    piss on ya

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