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Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Necessity Is The Mother Of Invention

Photo courtesy of Maker Faire Africa

Four African teens, 14-year-old, Duro-Aina Adebola, Akindele Abiola, Faleke Oluwatoyin and 15-year-old Bello Eniola have proved the maxim that necessity is indeed the mother of invention (note I said mother not father.) They came up with an innovative energy source and  powered a generator using (excuse the expression) pee. Yes, it's a pee powered generator. Thought you'd heard it all didn't you? Then along comes this story.

The young women invented their generator for a innovation fair. While it is not meant to be a way to power your home, and would not be efficient for this purpose, it might have applications for use in the waste water treatment plants where the urea is being removed from the water anyway. Why not harness it and use it to help power the plant? Obviously their idea is 'not ready for prime time' yet, but with some serious tweaking, it could help offset our energy needs at waste water plants in the future.

Gerardine Botte, a chemical engineer at Ohio University who invented the urea electrolysis process, told NBC News "what these kids are doing is taking urea electrolysis and making hydrogen and then using that hydrogen to make electricity.” Botte applauds their ingenuity in taking one liter of urine and turning it into six hours of electricity. Professor Botte has her college students at Ohio University's Russ College of Engineering and Technology model, design, construct, and test novel electrochemical technologies like this one.

While I don't quite see all the denizens of the Jersey Shore powering their homes using this source during the recent storm outages, it is an example of how people can be creative and take simple objects and turn them into an energy source.

I admit I am in awe. At 14 I had not even heard of urea electrolysis, let alone considered entering innovation fairs with the resulting technology.

The Next Web explains how it works:
  • Urine is put into an electrolytic cell, which cracks the urea into nitrogen, water, and hydrogen.
  • The hydrogen goes into a water filter for purification, which then gets pushed into the gas cylinder.
  • The gas cylinder pushes hydrogen into a cylinder of liquid borax, which is used to remove the moisture from the hydrogen gas.
  • This purified hydrogen gas is pushed into the generator.
  • 1 Liter of urine gives you 6 hours of electricity.
While I don't see us converting our power stations over to this method of creating power anytime soon, it shows us that when someone thinks outside the box they can come up with all sorts of creative ways to do a task.

These young ladies provide the rest of us with a good example of how to make something out of a formerly 'flushable' product.

**(the details of their innovation are courtesy of Good, a web site that puts challenges out there and invites you to solve some of the larger problems facing our communities and the details are courtesy of The Next Web.) 

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