back to article Urine a goldmine for fuel-cell materials: boffins

Over the centuries, urine has been collected for all manner of unpleasant industrial applications. Now, a new research paper suggests pee could be a big contributor to the future of carbon fuel-cell technology. According to this paper in Nature, doped collections of carbon atoms recovered from human urine have the right kind …


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  1. Raphael

    someone's got to say it

    surely they're taking the piss?

    alright I'll get me coat and be on my way.

    1. Geoff Campbell Silver badge

      Re: someone's got to say it

      Damn, beat me to it.

      ObBond: "What, from over here?"


      1. Steven Raith

        Energy production....

        Piece of piss, yeah?

        Sorry. So sorry.

        Steven R

  2. Gordon 10
    Thumb Up

    Best sub-heading ever!

    As you were.

    1. Marvin the Martian

      Re: Best sub-heading ever!

      Though it's an old idea: It costs me about £2000 per year to heat the house to reasonable temperature, about 7months a year -- but alternatively I can stay warm those days for about £1500 in cheap vodka.

      It's not complete fossil fuel independence, as I need a truck from Poland to my house once a year, but it goes a long way.

      1. Fibbles

        Re: Best sub-heading ever!

        "but alternatively I can stay warm those days for about £1500 in cheap vodka."

        Drinking or burning?

        1. Steven Raith

          Re: Best sub-heading ever!

          A little from column A, a little from Column B, one would expect.

          Like cooking with alcohol - one for the meat, one for me. one for the meat, one for me...

          1. Michael Dunn

            Re: Best sub-heading ever! @Steven Raith

            Must say I'm a devotee of the Keith Floyd school of cooing myself!

  3. dan1980

    Does that mean energy companies will lobby for a reduction in alcohol taxation?

  4. Sampler

    Does Jong-Sung Yu have..

    ..a t-shirt that says "I piss excellence"...

  5. david 12 Silver badge

    In the old system, tanners and dry-cleaners collected from the public toilets and pissours. I can't see that working in the modern system, where it's first mixed with shit.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      However, there must be scope for this in mens' malls and public toilets by redirecting urinal flow.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    N for nitrogen not nickel surely?

  7. Gray Ham Bronze badge

    I hope this means there'll be a market for it. This could provide a handy income stream for my retirement.

  8. Pen-y-gors


    From reading anothe article on it, it seems to involve heating the stuff for 48hrs to drive off the water than heating again to 1000 degrees C for six hours. So not negligible energy inputs then, but presumably still cheaper than Carbon/platinum electrodes.

    Neat idea though.

    1. Rabbit80

      Re: Costs?

      Perhaps they could use the steam to drive a turbine and reclaim some of that energy?

    2. Nigel 11

      Re: Costs? (@Pen-y-gors)

      Good Platinum ores are graded at grammes per tonne. You have to dig up, crush and chemically process a tonne of rock to get a few grammes of Platinum. This is one reason why it's so darned expensive.

      1. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

        Re: Costs? (@Pen-y-gors)

        Platinum group metals are rarely mined specifically for the platinum group metals. They are recovered as part of "tailings processing" for a more mundane - but far more profitable - metal. You don't mine for platinum. You mine for copper, and post-process the wastes to get your few extra bucks of profit per tonne by pulling out platinum group metals, gold and a few other odds and ends.

        In fact, until we discovered a use for them, platinum group metals were often discarded when they were dug up from gold mines. A great example of this is the Barkerville gold rush in BC, Canada. Some slaves would collect platinum group nuggets because they were pretty, but often left them behind. Years later, when the old camps were reexamined, containers full of platinum were found, left behind as they weren't worth anything, even to the slaves...tens of millions at today's prices.

  9. Warm Braw

    "Doped collections of carbon atoms"

    Does that mean it only works if you collect from the right sportsmen?

  10. DropBear

    "Urine makes great batteries"...

    ...declared the boffins - then they added "please don't ask us how we know".

  11. Crisp

    Unexpected Golden Shower

    How much money are they going to make out of this?

  12. Andy 73 Silver badge

    It's an old (urban legend?) that BT found it got consistently better microphones out of the charcoal supplied by one specific charcoal burner in Cornwall. They spent a lot of time analysing the type of wood, how he burned it, how it was granulated to try to work out why his charcoal was better than any other. They could find no difference in the materials or process and the guy was particularly unhelpful. In the end they sent someone to spy on him to see what he was doing. It turned out he held a grudge against BT and would routinely pee on the charcoal sacks before they were sent off to the company.

  13. RyokuMas

    Intellectual property...

    Many a true word is said in jest...

  14. Jimboom

    Change of meaning for the phrase

    Extracting the urine - Will it come to mean that I am just in the process of charging my phone/car/other shiny gadget?

  15. Sproing

    Ah, history ...

    Gunpowder used to use urine as a source of Pottasium Nitrate, so we already knew about using the human body as a source of pretty damn useful/convenient chemicals ...

    1. GrahamT

      Re: Ah, history ...

      I seem to remember that it was excrement that was used to produce saltpeter (Potassium Nitrate). Dung (human and animal) mixed with ash was spread on a field, and wet blankets spread on the earth and left a few months. The blankets were then washed and the wash liquid evaporated. The crystals left were nitre/saltpeter which was then blended with sulphur and charcoal to make gunpowder.

      A big advantage was that the fields were then nicely fertilised for the next crop.

      In later times, nasty people would buy Potassium Nitrate directly from a gardening shop to make "fertiliser" bombs.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Industrial scale

    Urine from farm animals presumably contains the same chemicals. There is an increasing use of industrial scale indoor herds. Presumably the slurry could have the liquids filtered off - still leaving the residue for bio-energy generation.

    The TV series "The Worst Jobs in History" included the Government's regular mining of the earth floors in people's huts. This urine soaked material was refined to extract the potassium nitrate for gunpowder.

    1. Michael Dunn

      Re: Industrial scale

      "Urine from farm animals ..." My first job after leaving school in 1950 was as a technician in a pharmaceutical company development research lab.After settling i, I was given the task of synthesising a number of androgens. Considerable literature research was necessary to find suitable methods. I was amazed at the fact that in those days a major source of steroids and hormones entering aademic and industrial laboratories for investigation was pregnant mares' urine.

  17. Keith Oborn

    Bob Shaw, SF author of fond memory, once gave a talk on the spaceship "Yurinate" - named for the first man in space, of course ;-)

    The propulsion system was based on his observation that for every pint of beer consumed, 1.1 pints of urine was excreted.

    So the ship reaction mass was provided by a three element system: a brewery, a bar, and a (large) lavatory. Water was recycled from the last to the first, and the 10% profit sent to the engines to be turned to steam shot out the back.

    So when the captain called for maximum power this required the crew to drink as much as they could handle, and led to the inevitable cry of "Cap'n, the bladders cannae take it--"

    1. Chris G

      So a urine powered trip to Uranus is possible?

      This article reminded me of this from a few years ago:

  18. Mitoo Bobsworth

    What goes on in the Wee small hours.

    Doped atoms, human urine - hell of a party, boys... golden opportunity.

    Now, I need a recharge (hic!) - & maybe a shower. Cheers.

  19. Michael Habel

    Their proof-of-concept demonstrated that they could use urine to create “highly porous carbon containing heteroatoms such as N, S, Si, and P.

    I'm sure that this makes the Homo, and other LGBT atoms unhappy that they're not getting any more recognition.

  20. i like crisps


    Would've had a completely different tone to the movie if, at the beginning, Doc Brown dropped his drawers got his cock out and emptied the steaming contents of his Bladder into his "Mr Fusion" fuel cell.

    1. andy k O'Croydon


      Of course, that would have actually been at the end of the first Back to the Future film. Your point still stands.

      1. i like crisps

        Re: BACK TO THE FUTURE, PT 2

        You're right, i forgot about that. Have an upvote.

  21. Andy The Hat Silver badge

    Does this mean we'll have people open cast mining the laybys and verges of the A1 for golden lemonade bottles?

    What we could do is have a "Public Lavatory", charge people a quid to piss in it *and* sell the urine to a factory ... double charging is always economically prudent!

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Re: open cast mining laybys

      No, Cameron will just license the energy companies to extract whatever they need from right underneath your frackables.

  22. Mike Moyle

    "...doped collections of carbon atoms recovered from human urine..."

    Can I smoke ANY old dope, or does it have to be a specific breed?

    "Well, Mr. Johnson, the bad news is that you failed the drug test, so you can't make you an offer for that management position. The good news is that it means that we CAN offer you a position in our battery-manufacturing division!"

  23. Qu Dawei

    Douglas Adams but changed a little

    These new-fangled power companies will be intent on making money from us. What we should all do is insist that they reimburse us for excreting for THEM! Insist on getting a receipt every time you use a lavatory!

  24. dncnvncd

    Rube Goldberg forever

    Curious how researchers chose Carbon from urine when the much maligned coal, peat and lignite has many of the same elements readily available. It's been about 20 years since there was talk of Carbon "chips" replacing Silicon "chips" because Carbon electron movements were 20X faster. Wondered what happened to the research, guess now I know. Ah, Rube Goldberg, what a genius.

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