A group of young engineers and scientists in Lagos recently made a generator that produces cheap and sustainable electric power without releasing any obnoxious substances to the environment. To make it interesting, this generator is powered with urine. Yes, it is powered with pee.
The urine powered generator is a project of The Cedar Centre STEM Hub in Lagos. The hub is a networking and empowerment centre for youths and young professionals in Nigeria.
The project was submitted for the 2016 Hackaday prize.
The idea of using urine as fuel is not new, even in Nigeria. In 2012, four Nigerian teenage girls in Lagos put their names on Forbes magazine by figuring out a way to use a litre of urine as fuel to get six hours of electricity from their generator. Then Fourteen-year-olds Duro-Aina Adebola, Akindele Abiola, and Faleke Oluwatoyin, and 15-year-old Bello Eniola displayed their invention at Maker Faire Africa in Lagos, Nigeria, an annual event meant to showcase ingenuity.
How can you power a generator with urine?
Turning Urine to Hydrogen Fuel
According to the Royal Society of Chemistry, Urine’s major constituent is urea, which incorporates four hydrogen atoms per molecule – importantly, less tightly bonded than the hydrogen atoms in water molecules. Electrolysis is used to break the molecule apart in an electrolytic cell to release hydrogen. 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.
The hydrogen produced through this process is impure. The teenage girls solved this by passing the hydrogen through a water filter for purification, and through a liquid borax, in order to remove moisture from the gas. Borax is a natural mineral, commonly used in laundry detergent.
Converting the Petrol Engine to Hydrogen Engine
The Petrol Internal Combustion Engine requires some modifications so it can be powered with Hydrogen. The Cedar Centre STEM Hub crew as written on their Hackaday page, adjusted their generator engine by the retardation of TDI (Top Dead Injection), resulting to the retardation of the spark timing by 110. And also constructed a pressure release valve mechanism that was joined to the carburetor of the generator.
Powering a Generator with Used Oil
The Cedar Centre STEM Hub crew ventured further to make a generator that is powered with ethane/propane gases produced the thermal catalytic cracking of used oil.
In other to achieve this they constructed a chamber with an upper layer consisting of two ceramic layers, sandwiching grounded banana peels. A stainless steel cylinder encased in glass fibre and resin as insulator.
Vanadium spunch was used as the catalyst for the cracking. While the exhaust pipe of the generator directed into the catalytic chamber supplied the heat needed for the cracking.
As stated on their page the workability and the efficiency of the generator was tested over a repeated 6 hours period, varying the load.
Like I have always said. The projects of these youngsters may not be practical or efficient, but the creativity and ingenuity exhibited, their effort and the mentality of wanting to make a difference and contribution to humanity should always be celebrated.