Urine power set to ‘serve society’
TECHNOLOGY to turn urine into electricity that was developed at a West university 17 years ago is on the verge of being commercialised.
A spin-out venture has been formed to bring Pee Power – which emerged from a PhD research project at the University of the West of England in the early 2000s – to market.
The technology developed at the Bristol Robotics Laboratory uses organic material found in urine as a fuel, with the waste water being channelled in such a way that it creates electricity.
The technology can produce enough energy to power lighting or charge phones, and also creates a plant fertilizer as a natural byproduct.
Funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, EPSRC and the EU, the system has already been trialled at Glastonbury Festival and used to provide lighting for toilet blocks at schools in Uganda and Kenya.
Professor Ioannis Ieropoulos, director of the Bristol BioEnergy Centre at BRL and creator of the technology, says it could eventually be installed in refugee camps, slums and hospitals.
He said: “Our development of this 100-year-old microbial fuel cell technology [is] almost ready for the commercial world.
“This means it can now begin to serve society, which is what we set out to do in the first place, and we are now setting up the vehicle for producing volume.”
The UWE spin-out venture Robial, which was launched this week at the Gates Foundation’s Reinvented Toilet Expo in Beijing, is working towards using the technology to help some of the world’s poorest nations.
The Robial team has also unveiled pilot-tested technologies for safe sanitation that do not need water or sewer connections.
John Greenman, emeritus professor of microbiology at UWE Bristol, says it is a “significant step” in the development, commercialisation and adoption of toilet technology to meet the sanitation needs of the world’s poorest communities.
He said: “We are thrilled to see that Pee Power is part of a wave of technologies from across the globe that are innovative approaches to sanitation.”
Robial has been formed with the support of innovation and transformation consultancy Oxentia, which is helping to grow the potential of the technology. It will target the humanitarian sector before moving into other markets.
Dr Bruno Reynolds, senior consultant at Oxentia, said: “Robial has the potential to transform the lives of billions who currently do not have access to sewage-networked sanitation. In building a business based on this technology, we expect to attract investors who share our goal of improving the safety and sanitation of billions of people all over the world.”
Professor Martin Boddy, pro vice-chancellor for research and enterprise at UWE Bristol, said: “[The technology] has the potential to have a huge impact on the lives of people living in communities in the developing world and other applications beyond.
“Pee Power will continue to have the university’s support and backing as it continues to the next phase of its journey.”
Pee Power has been trialled at Glastonbury
The Pee Power technology was developed at UWE in Bristol