Of all the careers out there that appeal to the readers and staff of this website, I think it’s safe to say that “astronaut” is pretty high on the list. Some of them are afforded the opportunity to experience Earth in a way the rest of us just don’t get to. Bristol Robotics Laboratory’s Dr. Ioannis Ieropoulos, aside from having one of the coolest names I’ve ever heard, has made it possible for anyone to act like an astronaut. Only not in the “I’m going to outer space” way, but rather the “I’m going to >conserve my urine and reuse it” way. He has figured out a way to harness the power of urine to power a cell phone. Try and find an app for that.
Ieropoulos is something of an expert in using microbial fuel cells (MFCs) to produce electrical power. MFCs contain the same tiny microorganisms that are present inside our bodies and in the soil beneath our feet, gaining their energy from eating waste, among other things. With Ieropoulos’ invention, the urine will be digested by the microbes, which then put out enough power to do a few tasks on a mobile phone — a Samsung phone in this case. The MFCs are piled into power stack, and while it isn’t a replacement for an actual full battery, the stack allows enough power to send an SMS message, to browse the Web, or to make a short call. Here’s how I see that phone call going: “Hey, my pee powered this call! Hello?”
Check out the video below, which goes into more detail on the process and shows it in action.
It seems ridiculous that it’s taken this long for urine to be used in a way that serves this upwardly mobile society, but Ieropoulos and his team aren’t stopping at just this project, which I’d love to dub the pPhone if I didn’t think Apple’s legal team would tackle me in public. They plan on implementing the technology in places where the urine flows freely, namely bathrooms. They hope that enough electricity can be harnessed to power lights, showers, and, on a smaller level, toothbrushes and razors. Funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, the Gates Foundation, and the Technology Strategy Board, Ieropoulos aims to earn a grant of some kind that would allow them to team up with partners in the U.S. and South Africa to create a smart toilet. You’d think a really smart toilet would stay the hell away from electricity.
Humanity needs to harness the power of everything we do to save the power sources we already have. But if you’re using one of these glove phones, I don’t think I have to tell you that you’ll probably have to take them off before powering them up.