I read the coolest thing ever this weekend on DiscoveryNews.com, something which will totally resonate with my seven-year-old son: scientists have figured out how to make pee-powered and poo-powered cars.
I’m sure this is something every first-grader doodles in the margins of their notebooks – someone going to the bathroom in a car and then the car magically driving off into the sunset – and one day soon it won’t be something that will land him in the principal’s office!
Chemistry postdocs Shanwen Tao and Rong Lan at Heriot-Watt University’s School of Engineering and Physical Sciences in Edinburgh are turning pee into electricity and clean water with a prototype fuel cell system, according to the report.
Fuel cells aren’t too practical yet for regular use because they’re pricey and often rely on dangerous components, but this “pee-cell” (I can’t help but make childish jokes) uses urea, waste created as a result of your body’s metabolism.
Urea is easy to make (ha, ha), non-toxic, and you have it on hand (so to speak) all the time.
They call the pee-cell the Carbamide (another name for urea) Power System, and it breaks down urine from humans or animals into water, nitrogen and carbon dioxide, along with electricity.
The team will have a prototype ready for next year (so don’t go urinating into your gas tank just yet).
In the race for cleaner-running cars, though, poo is no longer number two (I just can’t help myself).
Earlier this month, Discovery reported that Volkswagon just created a prototype for the “bio-bug,” a VW Beetle that runs on processed sewage.
Geneco, a subsidiary of the British sewage treatment company Wessex Water, worked with the folks at Volkswagon on the prototype. Methane is produced from sewage through the digestion of bacteria. There is some super-secret processing of the methane, but it eventually becomes gas.
A converted 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine runs on the biogas and can go speeds of about 114 miles per hour, according to the Discovery story. It uses regular gas to start and then switches to methane. Drivers won’t be able to tell the difference between driving in a standard car and one powered by the gas.
The company says 70 households’ worth of human waste will power one car for a year or 10,000 miles.
It’s a great idea, I think – to take human waste, which already consumes water, chemicals and electricity to clean, remove and dump – and use that to run cars, instead of taking it to a landfill or spraying it in the woods (once they clean sewage, that’s often where the sludge ends up).
I am crossing my fingers that this comes to pass in an economical enough format that everyone can have a pee-car or poo-truck.
I googled around a bit and found that using human waste isn’t that crazy an idea. The city of San Antonio has been using the waste of its residents as clean-burning natural gas since 2008. Apparently a few national dairy farms convert cattle waste into methane that powers their machinery, so the technology is already a reality when it comes to large-scale projects.
In fact, that seems to be a fantastic trend lately – using landfill trash, excrement and other waste products to fuel our buildings, machines and gadgets. I think that this gets to the heart of the green mantra: reduce, reuse, recycle.
Nothing says we can’t giggle as we first begin to pee into our gas tanks in the not-so-distant future, though.
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You know, we all have great ideas for eco-friendly gadgets or ways to save this or that. Do you have any great ideas (maybe even some kind of crazy ideas) that you’d like to share? If so, leave your thoughts below. I’m always looking for good ideas for my next blog.