Turning Pee Into Power

Scientists have demonstrated that human urine is a potent source of carbon catalysts, which could help power supercapacitors and batteries.

AsianScientist (Jun 18, 2014) – Scientists from Korea University have shown that human urine is a rich source of carbon catalysts, prompting a rethink of the way we handle our everyday biological waste.

Fuel cells, which are used for power generation in supercapacitors and batteries, usually employ platinum (Pt) as an electrocatalyst to speed up their chemical processes. However, the scarcity of Pt and its high cost have driven scientists to consider alternative electrocatalysts that are free of metals, such as carbon nanostructures. However, carbon nanostructures are highly specialized and difficult to synthesize; scientists hope to develop simple and cost-effective synthesis methods that can eventually be industrialized.

The team from Korea University’s Department of Advanced Materials Chemistry performed a three-step process—dehydration, carbonization, and etching and washing—to purify samples of urine, leading to a yield of porous urine carbon (URC), which displayed catalytic strength comparable to the widely-used Pt catalyst.

According to the research published in Scientific Reports, the URC isolation process also produced white powder salts derived from sylvite (KCl) and halite (NaCl) that “find valuable applications such as de-icing salts.”

“The findings should stimulate not only development of various novel carbon materials with superb functionality, but also extensive practical applications such as electrochemical electrode materials and adsorbents,” the authors explained.

“If such porous carbon materials can be prepared through a simple efficient methodology employing renewable sustainable abundant carbon precursor, this would mark major progress in the future.”

The article can be found at: Chaudhari et al. (2014) Heteroatom-doped highly porous carbon from human urine.


Copyright: Asian Scientist Magazine; Photo: Christian Heilmann/Flickr/CC.
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Alan Aw is a maths enthusiast who likes sharing the fun and beauty of science with others. Besides reading, he enjoys running, badminton, and listening to (and occasionally playing) Bach or Zez Confrey.

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