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Urine turned into hydrogen fuel
Chemistry World ^ | 02 July 2009 | Matt Wilkinson

Posted on 07/07/2009 8:23:59 PM PDT by neverdem

US researchers have developed an efficient way of producing hydrogen from urine - a feat that could not only fuel the cars of the future, but could also help clean up municipal wastewater. 

Using hydrogen to power cars has become an increasingly attractive transportation fuel, as the only emission produced is water - but a major stumbling block is the lack of a cheap, renewable source of the fuel. Gerardine Botte of Ohio University may now have found the answer, using an electrolytic approach to produce hydrogen from urine - the most abundant waste on Earth - at a fraction of the cost of producing hydrogen from water.

Botte says the idea came to her several years ago at a conference on fuel cells, where they were discussing how to turn clean water into clean power. 'I wondered how we could do this better,' she adds - so started looking at waste streams as a better source of molecules from which to produce hydrogen.

Urine's major constituent is urea, which incorporates four hydrogen atoms per molecule - importantly, less tightly bonded than the hydrogen atoms in water molecules. Botte used electrolysis to break the molecule apart, developing an inexpensive new nickel-based electrode to selectively and efficiently oxidise the urea. 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 electrolytic process

Electrolysis breaks down the urea, releasing hydrogen

 

'During the electrochemical process the urea gets adsorbed on to the nickel electrode surface, which passes the electrons needed to break up the molecule,' Botte told Chemistry World. Pure hydrogen is evolved at the cathode, while nitrogen plus a trace of oxygen and hydrogen were collected at the anode. While carbon dioxide is generated during the reaction, none is found in the collected gasses as it reacts with the potassium hydroxide in the solution to form potassium carbonate.

The group initially tested their process with 'synthetic' urine made of dissolved urea, but also showed that the process works just as well with real human urine. 'It took us some time to get clearance to work with human urine - which held up publication of the research,' says Botte.

According to Botte, currently available processes that can remove urine from water are expensive and inefficient. Urea naturally hydrolyses into ammonia before generating gas phase ammonia emissions. These emissions lead to the formation of ammonium sulphate and nitrate particulates in the air, which cause a variety of health problems including chronic bronchitis, asthma attacks and premature death. 

The group are currently conducting long term stability studies on their electrolysis systems, as well as conducting computational experiments to better understand the mechanisms at work. 

Botte believes the technology could be easily scaled-up to generate hydrogen while cleaning up the effluent from sewage plants. 'We do not need to reinvent the wheel as there are already electrolysers being used in different applications.' She believes the only the thing that would hamper the process would be the presence of a lot of salt.

Bruce Logan, an expert in energy generation from wastewater and director of Pennsylvania State University's H2E Center and Engineering Environmental Institute, applauded Botte's efforts in developing a more energy efficient way of producing hydrogen than splitting water. However, he did caution that urea gets converted very quickly into ammonia by bacteria, which could limit the usefulness of the technique. 

However, Logan does feel that it would be a good idea to start saving up our urine - although not for the hydrogen. 'You have to remember about the P [phosphorus] in pee - globally we need to start thinking about conserving phosphorus for fertiliser, because, just like oil, one day the deposits are all going to run out and we need to start building phosphorus recycling into our infrastructure,' he says. 

Matt Wilkinson

 

References

B K Boggs, R L King and G G Botte, Chem. Commun., 2009, DOI:  10.1039/b905974a

Also of interest

Sun shining on water

Breakthrough catalyst for splitting water

31 July 2008

Mild electrolysis system boosts hopes for artificial photosynthesis



TOPICS: Business/Economy; Culture/Society; News/Current Events; Technical
KEYWORDS: electrolysis; energy; hydrogenfuel; urine
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1 posted on 07/07/2009 8:23:59 PM PDT by neverdem
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To: neverdem

Sounds like a piss-poor solution.....


2 posted on 07/07/2009 8:26:11 PM PDT by ButThreeLeftsDo (FR....Monthly Donors Wanted. I Upped My Monthly....Now, Up Yours.)
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To: neverdem

Why not? Its water.Urine is an aqueous solution of approximately 95% water.


3 posted on 07/07/2009 8:26:29 PM PDT by ErnstStavroBlofeld (A leader does not deserve the name unless he is willing occasionally to stand alone-Henry Kissinger)
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To: neverdem

That’s a Pissah!


4 posted on 07/07/2009 8:26:40 PM PDT by mylife (The Roar Of The Masses Could Be Farts)
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To: neverdem

Would the K2CO3 produced ultimately be degraded to CO2 gas + KCl + H2O?


5 posted on 07/07/2009 8:27:54 PM PDT by Huskrrrr
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To: neverdem
It's really elemetaray Sherman..


6 posted on 07/07/2009 8:28:44 PM PDT by mylife (The Roar Of The Masses Could Be Farts)
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To: neverdem

So those guys outside beer joints all across America were on to something all along! Whodda thunk!


7 posted on 07/07/2009 8:34:47 PM PDT by FlingWingFlyer (Hey America! How's that "hope and change" thing working out?)
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To: neverdem

I’ll bet that Teddy K. produces “High Octane”.


8 posted on 07/07/2009 8:35:35 PM PDT by Don Corleone ("Oil the gun..eat the cannolis. Take it to the Mattress.")
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To: neverdem

“Honest officer. I was just fueling up.”


9 posted on 07/07/2009 8:36:49 PM PDT by P8riot (I carry a gun because I can't carry a cop.)
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Comment #10 Removed by Moderator

To: neverdem

11 posted on 07/07/2009 8:39:39 PM PDT by Ladysmith (The trouble with socialism is that you eventually run out of other people's money - M. Thatcher)
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To: neverdem

I guess those plastic bottles full of urine I always see scattered along the highway while I’m sampling are gonna start diminishing...

Who wants to bet if this ended up true that some organization would step up and declare them off limits because using them would exterminate the rare Asphaltic Piss Algae that grows in them after a few months???


12 posted on 07/07/2009 8:40:12 PM PDT by Axenolith (Government blows, and that which governs least, blows least...)
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To: neverdem

13 posted on 07/07/2009 8:42:36 PM PDT by smokingfrog ( Don't mess with the mockingbird! /\/\ http://tiny.cc/freepthis)
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To: Ladysmith

What do you think powers the sun? Sun burns 4 million tons of hydrogen each second.


14 posted on 07/07/2009 8:46:19 PM PDT by ErnstStavroBlofeld (A leader does not deserve the name unless he is willing occasionally to stand alone-Henry Kissinger)
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To: neverdem


15 posted on 07/07/2009 8:48:22 PM PDT by Bobalu (If life was fair it would be the horse's turn to ride.)
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To: sonofstrangelove

** rolling eyes **

It’s a JOKE, n00b! Get used to it.


16 posted on 07/07/2009 8:51:10 PM PDT by Ladysmith (The trouble with socialism is that you eventually run out of other people's money - M. Thatcher)
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To: neverdem
'We do not need to reinvent the wheel as there are already electrolysers being used in different applications.' She believes the only the thing that would hamper the process would be the presence of a lot of salt.

Isnt Salt the electrolyte?

17 posted on 07/07/2009 8:51:17 PM PDT by mylife (The Roar Of The Masses Could Be Farts)
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To: Huskrrrr

Its an Alkaline solution, its not going to decompose, maybe if you dry it out and dump acid on it or burn it, otherwise


18 posted on 07/07/2009 8:51:19 PM PDT by chemical_boy
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To: neverdem
"Botte used electrolysis to break the molecule apart, developing an inexpensive new nickel-based electrode to selectively and efficiently oxidise the urea".

Oh man, the secret must be out-I read somewhere that it is good to buy nickel and China is buying lots of it. Now it makes sense!

19 posted on 07/07/2009 8:53:17 PM PDT by GILTN1stborn
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To: Ladysmith

I am willing to bet you did not know that.


20 posted on 07/07/2009 8:53:32 PM PDT by ErnstStavroBlofeld (A leader does not deserve the name unless he is willing occasionally to stand alone-Henry Kissinger)
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