- Title: NIGERIA: Lagos school girls harness the power of pee
- Date: 23rd November 2012
- Summary: LAGOS, NIGERIA (RECENT) (REUTERS) STUDENTS WORKING ON THE URINE GENERATOR
- Embargoed: 8th December 2012 12:00
- Location: Nigeria
- Country: Nigeria
- Topics: Quirky,Technology,Energy
- Reuters ID: LVA56A5KF22VDPZ9W8O0306GWCWI
- Story Text: Inspired by a news story about a family of five dying from carbon monoxide poisoning, four Nigerian schoolgirls have invented a generator powered by urine. The quartet, aged between 14 and 15, are hopeful their invention will provide an environmentally friendly energy alternative for the poor.
Their urine-powered generator can produce up to six hours of electricity per litre of human waste. First the urine is put into a glass electrolytic cell device, which separates the urine into nitrogen, water, and hydrogen. The hydrogen goes into a water filter for purification before being transferred into an adjoining gas cylinder. The gas cylinder pushes hydrogen into a cylinder of liquid borax, which is then used to remove the moisture from the hydrogen gas. The purified hydrogen gas then appears inside the generator.
Fourteen-year-old Duro-Aina Adebola is excited about the technology.
"We are taught in chemistry, elementary chemistry that all waste products produce energy, so can this energy be converted into power that can be used to generate energy or generate power so we looked into urine, and we also looked into water but we noticed that in water the hydrogen molecules are tightly bonded together, and in water it takes three volts to break up this hydrogen molecule bond; but in urine, it takes one point three volts, so we opted for urine, since, one, it's a waste product, and if we use urine as we carry out electrolysis, if we use urine, our waste product or our exhaust gas is going to be water and that's not poisonous to our environment," she said.
She added: "This hydrogen gas mixture goes into our water filter and the function of the water filter is to remove any impurities from our hydrogen gas mixture. The hydrogen gas mixture then goes into our cylinder here which temporarily stores the gas when ever we need the gas. Then the gas goes into our borax and the function of the borax here is to dry the hydrogen gas to remove any moisture from the gas because if moisture gets into our the engine of our generator, it can damage our generator, and then the gas goes into our generator," explained Adebola.
The generator is still in its trial stages and the girls are under close supervision from their teachers. They presented their initial work at the annual Maker Faire Africa held in Lagos in November, where it was the star attraction.
Lawal Olaide, head of science at Doregos Private Academy where the girls are in their junior year of high school, says the use of urine could provide opportunities for rural parts of the country. It's estimated that more than half of the country's 160 million people have no access to electricity and those who do are not guaranteed of its regular supply. Low income earners use carbon fuels like charcoal or paraffin for cooking, a practice that frequently causes house fires, while millions of homes have at least one power generating set that needs petrol to run.
Olaide said the girls have even found a way to remove the unpleasant associations of urine. "You know people get repelled at the odour of urine, if it's their own urine, they don't mind, but somebody else's urine, they don't like touching, in order to avoid that we added two molar solution of washing soda at point one percent, inside the urine, once that is done it suppresses the odour of the urine so it has zero odour," he said.
The students' success however, was not immediate. It came after a great deal of trial and error and at least one near disaster.
"The electrolytic cell exploded because the hydrogen oxygen gas backfired from the generator into the electrolytic cell and that caused the explosion, so when we now made the urine powered generator again, we inserted one way valves in the pipes of the generator, the pipes connecting the electrolytic cell to the generator so as to prevent the backfire so that incase the engine happens to backfire, the hydrogen gas won't be able to go back into the electrolytic cell," said 15-year-old Bello Eniola.
With just 10,000 naira (US$64) spent on the trial stage, the young innovators are planning to use more money to make their device more compact by analysing ways to get rid of the tubes and bottles without interfering with its efficiency.
There are several power solutions in the market - from wind and solar energy, to battery powered inverters, but these options are capital intensive and not affordable for the majority of Nigerians.
The partial removal of a fuel subsidy in January by Nigeria's President, Goodluck Jonathan which led to one week of strikes and protests, has made petrol more expensive and a recent scarcity in Lagos has worsened the situation.
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