The fuel cells, developed at the Bristol Robotics Laboratory at the University of the West of England (UWE) in the UK have also been shown to kill dangerous microbes in the urine.
The researchers have teamed up with Oxfam and manufacturer Dunster House on a toilet block big enough for 25 people at a time. The urine is used to power the fuel cells to light the structure.
“The urinal at the festival this year is going to be built to the size we plan to use for refugee camps,” said Professor Ieropoulos, Director of the Bristol BioEnergy Centre. “Generating energy for free and also cleaning the urine so that it is suitable for agricultural use resonates with the Glastonbury Festival organisers who have made us feel very welcome. The benefits of a stand-alone system like the version we have designed is that it provides lighting that can be used in any environment and in any conditions with electricity being generated continuously from the waste without having to rely on the grid or other fossil fuel based technology.”
Oxfam is starting trials of the technology in Africa and India.
“In most refugee camps around the world, and in poor slum areas, light is needed at night,” said Andy Bastable, Water Sanitation Manager for Oxfam. “The microbial fuel cells light up patches in the camp and this is important in regard to women’s safety at night. Another bonus of this technology is the ability to charge mobile phones. There is potential for us to develop charging centres that would be particularly beneficial in refugee camps where families get split up.”
The project is backed by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. “The project is in quite early days in terms of the field trials and Oxfam is hoping to work with the Bristol BioEnergy Centre not just on investigating the lighting inside toilets but working towards lighting a six metre radius around the toilets so we have street lighting based on pee power.”
Other pathogens, including viruses, are now being tested and there are plans for experiments which will establish if the fuel cell system can eliminate pathogens entirely.
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