Nature and Biodiversity

How power generated from human waste will help refugees

Magdalena Mis
Production Editor, Thomson Reuters Foundation
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A toilet that uses urine to generate electricity and can charge a mobile phone will soon light up dark corners of refugee camps after being tested by students in Britain.

The pioneering toilet, the result of collaboration between global aid agency Oxfam and the University of the West of England in Bristol, uses live microbes which feed on urine and convert it into power.

“Living in a refugee camp is hard enough without the added threat of being assaulted in dark places at night. The potential of this is huge,” Andy Bastable, head of water and sanitation at Oxfam, said in a statement.

The first toilet will be sent to a refugee camp within the next six months, and after testing will be rolled out more widely, initially in camps, but possibly also in other places without electricity, Oxfam said.

“This technology is about as green as it gets, as we do not need to use fossil fuels and we are effectively using a waste product that will be in plentiful supply,” said Ioannis Ieropoulos, director of the Bristol BioEnergy Centre and leader of the team that developed the toilet.

Bastable and Ieropoulos say it is the sustainability of the technology – it just needs a plentiful supply of urine – that makes it practical for aid agencies to use the toilet in the field.

“One microbial fuel cell costs about 1 pound ($2) to make, and we think that a small unit like the demo we have mocked up for this experiment could cost as little as 600 pounds to set up, which is a significant bonus as this technology is, in theory, everlasting,” said Ieropoulos.

The prototype toilet, conveniently located near the University of the West of England’s student union bar, was successfully tested by students who found it produced enough electricity to power a light bulb. ($1 = 0.6546 pounds)

This article is published in collaboration with the Thomson Reuters Foundation trust.org. Publication does not imply endorsement of views by the World Economic Forum.

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Author: Magdalena Mis joined Thomson Reuters Foundation in 2011.

Image: The toilet that uses urine to generate electricity is pictured near the University of West England’s union bar. Photo courtesy of University of the West of England.

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Related topics:
Nature and BiodiversityGlobal CooperationFourth Industrial RevolutionEconomic GrowthEmerging Technologies
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