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Hydrogen doesn't grow on trees... well not free hydrogen gas, at least

One of my friends on Facebook, Inc. (FB) shared second hand a piece of amazing news.  According to his friend's post a group of Nigerian girls has invented a "pee generator" which takes a couple cups worth of urine, filters out the contaminates and turns the water into pure hydrogen gas which is then dried/stored in borax, before being piped to a small portable combustion generator.

Hmm, if true this is the best thing since urine harvested stems cells were used to regrow neurons and more!  What can't urine do?  Sort of gives a whole new meaning to "thy cup runneth over", right?

The only problem, as I pointed out to my friend, is that it's unfortunately malarkey (for the most part).  Yes, it's certainly an entertaining science faire (or faire?) experiment, given that it potentially should work.  And yes, there's perhaps a small amount of useful purpose amidst the misrepresentations. But when it comes to the solution to the world's small scale power needs, pee is not some some magical panacea.

I. Pee Power: The Golden Years

It's somewhat amazing that this story is still making the rounds.

The probable inspiration behind this pee pandemonia likely lies in a 2010 presentation delivered at Proceedings of the 12th International Conference on the Synthesis and Simulation of Living Systems (aka Artificial LIFE XII or A-LIFE XII (2010)).  Given by Professor Ioannis Ieropoulos of the University of the West of England's (UWE) Bristol Bioenergy Center (a sub-lab of the Bristol Robotics Laboratory (BRL)) the talk discussed using a microbial fuel cell (MFC) to produce hydrogen to power a robot [pg. 749 PDF].

A little over a year later in Oct. 2011 Prof. Ieropoulos published a followup paper [PDF] on the MFC which carried an unexpected twist.  In terms of unexpected, yet novel turns in science few can claim rival that which the UWE professor's work took -- suddenly his research hatched a brand new field: "urine-tricity".  The premise was (and is) both sensational and simple -- push pee into a colony of bacteria in a fancy jar (of sorts) and let them digest it, building up a low level current in the process which is stored in a battery.

Urine -- fuel for the future?

Urine --fuel for the future, or pissing into the wind? [Image Source: RSC]

In the perfect world this would be an epic win.  While the amount of power produced by a urine fed stack is minute -- roughly 2 to 2.5 milliwatts in more recent iterations -- that's enough to trickle charge (no pun intended) a microelectronic device in a remote setting.  Typically that would require a noisy, wasteful, smelly, and worst of all expensive fossil fuel generator.

MFC
The pee microbial fuel cell (MFC) (well, urine MFC, formally speaking) is a good idea, but it's not all there commercially speaking. [Image Source: Phys. Chem. Chem. Phys.]

But, the devil, of course, is in the details.  While the cell itself was cheap to construct (being comprised in part of a clay vessel), the hard part would be getting and keeping alive the bacteria colony.  A recent publication describes the process as follows

"Both types of MFC were inoculated from anaerobic sludge, provided by the Wessex Water Scientific Laboratory (Cam Valley, Saltford, UK), which was supplemented with acetate (as the source of carbon energy) and yeast-extract (as the source of minerals/nutrients). The acetate–yeast extract was added into 1 L of anaerobic sludge and consisted of 25 mM sodium acetate (Fisher Scientific, UK) and 0.1% w/v yeast extract (Oxoid, UK) with no added buffers and a pH of 6.7.

Initially and for approximately 1 week, the ceramic MFCs were maintained under batch mode conditions, after which they were switched to continuous flow, using a Watson Marlow 205U peristaltic pump (Watson Marlow, UK). The flow rate used was 250 mL min1 (hydraulic retention time – HRT = 3 hours, 48 minutes) and the same flow rate was subsequently employed for urine. The EcoBot MFCs were also maintained in fed-batch mode with 3 mL of either acetate–yeast extract or urine fed twice a day, resulting in an HRT E 24 hours.
"

doi: 10.1039/C3CP52889H; Physical Chemistry Chemical Physics (PCCP); Jul. 2013

At the risk of playing contrarian I would point out that there's one thing glaringly absent from most of these publications: the lifespan of the bacteria.  Most bacteria are short-lived and seek to live in a specific sort of environment.  In this case it's clear that the bacteria colony can last at least a week and only requires yeast (not super expensive), water, and acetate (which can be made frugally from baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) and vinegar).


robots to pee

From robots to pee research funded by Bill Gates, Professor Ioannis Ieropoulos has seen his career at UWE take an unexpected and somewhat sensational diversion. [Image Source: UWE/Bristol]

The issue is not so much in the media (which certainly is doable in a remote setting and not overly rigorous, but in the tolerance to changes in the cell, particularly in terms of temperatures and pH.  Remember, these remote regions don't have air conditioning in the summer or central heat in the winter.  So keeping your pet bacteria alive is challenging.

And then there's the real kicker -- the pump.  The bacteria, after all, don't like to live in stagnant water.  They like a nice gentle flow and continuous twice daily injection of nutrients.  Those luxuries are provided via Watson Marlow 205U peristaltic pump [brochure; PDF].  Such pumps typically have motors that start at a minimum of 5 watts.

So your bacteria colony, which outputs 2 to 2.5 milliwatts of power needs something on the order of two thousand times that much power to continuously circulate its media.  

"Uh oh."

Thermo Fisher pumps

Want to keep your bacteria alive.  Oh, that will cost you $6,000... [Image Source: Thermo Fisher Sci.]

Oh and did I mention that Thermo Fisher Scientific Inc. (TMO) quoted me at a cost of GBP£4196.00 (~$6,500 USD)??  That's right; while the sludge may be free on site to the research team and while the MFC housing, electrodes, and media, may be produceable for just a few dollars, the thing you need to keep your cool bacteria thriving costs a very first world price.

Double "uh oh."

Practically speaking those two caveats likely kill the near term "commercial" / "real world" applications of the technology in the short term.  The good news is that MAYBE they can be someday overcome (say via an electrolytic bacteria species that lives in a stagnant setting conducive for low-tech feeding via syringe).  (But notice, that's a maybe in caps and itallics... as it remains to be seen.)

urine
Power from pee? One day maybe, with the help of microbes it will be commercially viable.  For now it's not so much so, though. [Image Source: Medical Daily]

Likely for that reason the project has attracted funding from Oxfam International (a multinational anti-poverty nonprofit) and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.  And that funding has brought with it a lot of attention.

While the idea we're about to discuss -- the Nigerian pee generator -- is fundamentally different from a science perspective, the whole idea of power from pee was first hatched by the Gates funded "Urine-tricity" project at UWE.  Hence, it's highly probable that these Nigerian teens gained a bit of inspiration from early coverage on the topic.

II. Urine For It Now

That leads us to the Nigerian pee generator itself, which flowed down the pipe (okay, pun intended) at the do-it-yourself 2012 Maker Faire Africa gathering.  
Maker Faire Africa
The post reads:

Possibly one of the more unexpected products at Maker Faire Africa this year in Lagos is a urine powered generator, created by four girls. The girls are Duro-Aina Adebola (14), Akindele Abiola (14), Faleke Oluwatoyin (14) and Bello Eniola (15).

1 Liter of urine gives you 6 hours of electricity.

The system works like this:

• Urine is put into an electrolytic cell, which separates out the 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.

Along the whole way there are one-way valves for security, but let’s be honest that this is something of an explosive device…

I'll summarize my reaction to that hot take in the words of the internet: "oh rly?!"

Urine generator

Urine generator

urine generator
Urine power!? [Image Source: Maker Faire Africa 2012/Flickr]

First, shame on the unnamed moderator who posted that captivating tail for this:
"1 Liter of urine gives you 6 hours of electricity." 

That's a pretty meaningless statement.  6 hours of electricity might mean 6 microwatts, it might mean 6 milliwatt-hours (more believeable were we talking fuel cells).  Or if we're talking actual generators, we might even be talking 6 watt-hours, 6 kilowatt-hours, or 6 megawatt-hours.  But "6 hours" gives you a whole lot of nothing in terms of clues about how much power this little bad beast is putting off.

Second, something about this "urine generator" was nagging at me.  Ah, yes, it reminded me eerily of the hydrogen fuel efficiency scams.  Indeed, a quick search of the term "hydrogen generator" on eBay, Inc. (EBAY) returns nary an ICE, but many an electrolysis can purporting to make your car XX% more efficient (you pick XX, since it's all lies anyways).

Snake oil
It's pure, and it really works! We swear... [Image Source: unknown]

Indeed whether intentionally or inadvertently the Nigerian urine generator metasticizes or mutates the hydrogen injection trope into a new package, sending it waltzing down the vein of UWE's urine-based microgenerator.

For those a bit lost on the hydrogen injection angle, the idea of this quackery was that somehow you could in part fuel your car on water.  And yes, to state the obvious, some people believed that claim and paid good money for such "inventions", laugh-inducing as they might sound to the rest of us.

Realistically speaking, as you might expect the whole automotive hydrogen injection business is indeed nothing but a shameless scam.  The electrolysis may be real, but the idea that it's feeding into your engine and somehow improving your fuel economy is pure tripe.  And yet you can still find these "conversion kits" on eBay.

While this flavor of snake oil will give you a whole lot of nothing, it has its share of true believers, many of whom are duped by your typical snake oil sellers who will stoop to outright fraud to convince you that your new "hydrogen boosted" automobile is getting 100 miles per gallon.  Hint: It's not.  One would hope after Dateline and a Popular Mechanics editor devastatingly debunked this crockpot that it would be laid to rest.  

Unfortunately that hasn't happened.
HHO generator
HydroKit, aka a steaming heap of hydrogen bullsh** [Image Source: eBay/"Green Source"]

And the hydrogen production-side of the Nigerian urine generator does bear some troubling similarities with the "HHO Generators" in these systems.
 
III. Really, Though, Urine Danger

But while the idea seems to share some common ground with that whole scam, it appears the idea here is a bit different and does have a bit more basis in reality.

As a professor points out in the NBC piece on the generator, the teens may indeed have created a real urea electrolysis cell.  The reaction in question reads something like this:

Urine electrolysis
Urine electrolysis -- the actual science [Image Source: Chem. Comm.]

To quote a research article [PDF] published in the edition of Chemical Communications:

Our results demonstrate that human urine, with an average concentration of 0.33 M urea,6 can be electrochemically oxidized with an inexpensive transition metal, nickel, according to eqn (1–4)... Overall in eqn (4), an electrolytic cell potential of only 0.37 V is thermodynamically required to electrolyze urea at standard conditions. This is significantly less than the 1.23 V required to electrolyze water theoretically generating 70% cheaper hydrogen.

This is interesting, at least, because it suggests that urine might indeed prove a novel source of hydrogen gas from electrolysis.  This could be used for short-term storage of energy produced from fluctuating uncontrollable sources e.g. wind and solar power.  

But bear in mind that there's two major problems.  First, the capturing and using the fuel can be highly dangerous.  As I will explain shortly the only safe route, practically speaking is some manner of compression, which not only reduces storage container weight, but also serves to increase the ignition temperature.  Second, safety aside, there's economic concerns.  Harvesting and using the fuel requires additional mechanics.  And those mechanics may wipe out what appeared to be a commercially feasible fuel production plan.

Turning first to the latter issue of the dollars and cents, the cost of generating hydrogen from electrolysis is currently around $5-10 USD per kilogram of gas [source] depending on the power source.  So maybe this urea route might achieve a cost as low as $1.50 USD per kilogram of gas.  Considering that U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) states that a kilogram of hydrogen gas has about the same energy content as a gallon of gasoline, that sounds promising even at the high end of roughly $3 USD/kg H2.

But the real problems lie with compression and storage.  At standard temperature and pressure, hydrogen has a density of around of about 0.09 kg/m3.  So you'd need a tank roughly 11.1 m3 to store the gas, unpressurized.  That's roughly the size of the mixing vessel of a concrete truck.  For comparison's sake, an average sedan's gas tank has a volume of approximately 1/13th of a cubic meter [source].

Hydrogen trunk tank
Whatcha gonna do with all that Hydrogen, all that hydrogen inside your trunk?
[Image Source: Auto News]

To get enough hydrogen to practically fuel an internal combustion engine you'd need to compress it to liquid form or fix it in some sort of matrix (e.g. zeolites, etc.) so as to pack in into a dense enough format so as to ensure that the weight of the storage container doesn't negate the gains of combustion in your ICE.  

You also have to worry about flammability.  Hydrogen is nearly three times as a flammable [source; PDF] by molarity in gas mixtures as methane. So the slightest of sparks and any liquid hydrogen vessel in the presence of oxygen will literally go up in smoke -- but only after a big bang.

To quote a well-rated expert commentary on StackExchange's Chemistry forum:

First, let me say that I've enjoyed many times exploding soap bubbles of about one milliliter filled with hydrolysis gas. That is 1 cubic centimeter. That will give you a sound that rings in your ears in a decent sized living room. You may wish to use ear protection for the experiment.

Or just watch this nifty video:



Thus if there's two things that make me particularly skeptical -- in spite of the the affirmation that the chemistry that there's a dose of reality in terms of chemistry behind this cockamamie concoction it's that either these young ladies are literally building a bomb or their claims of powering an ICE with hydrogen gas are -- metaphorically speaking -- nothing but hot air.

Most suspicously, the setup picture features a large refrigerant 22 (aka freon) tank. While this would certainly be capable of storing vapor or liquid hydrogen, there's one serious flaw with this repurposing. Freon is for all intents and purposes an inert, non-flammable gas [source; PDF].

Refrigerant 22 canister

Storing pure hydrogen or some hydrogen and air mixture in a freon metal container is insane because it's basically creating a bomb.  You're dealing with a vessel which if it explodes will fracture into sharp metal shards.  And the supposed use conditions all but ensure an explosion.  Simply put an iner refrigerant metal tank is in no way, shape, or form designed to store a flammable, explosive gas.

There's a reason why in a university research setting hydrogen is stored in refrigerated vessels [source; PDF].  At room temperature even the slightest spark (say static from a turning valve) can trigger explosive combustion in a hydrogen vapor.

IV. Urine Trouble (the Smell of a Lie)

All that said, we've been softly padding around the real red meat of this story.  What fascinated me about the claims -- dated as they might be -- was not so much the safety or practicality complaints, but rather the intriguing captions that these inventors choses to label their "invention" with.

Most notably they labeled what looks to be an off-the-shelf portable gas or diesel generator with te intriguing claim "urine powered".  If there's one aspect of this story that's strangely not been discussed it's that.  Practical or not, that doesn't change the fact that at the heart of this much publicized "invention" is an overt lie.

To unravel this yarn, let us begin by setting aside the other issues surrounding the system.

Sure storing and attempting to ignite with a spark uncompressed hydrogen is sort of suicidal.  But let us assume the worst.  

Maybe these poor people are indeed taking their life into their own hands, ill-informed on the risks.  Well, the more pressing question other issues decide is that mysterious cherry red generator which is clearly powering the lightbulb.  Is it truly being "powered by urine" as they claim?  Or is that the lie that breaks the back of this project from a credibility perspective?



To determine which is true, we must first examine what exactly is the guts of your everday portable generator.  Basically, a generator is simply an internal combustion engine (ICE) and the alternator that is responsible for "collecting" the mechanical power and transforming it into electrical power.  In essence a generator takes stored chemical energy and releases it creating mechanical energy.  It then harvests and transforms that mechanical energy into a useful form -- electrical power.

On the mechanical side gas or diesel generators aren't that specials snowflakes.  They typically use a small ICE that isn't that far removed from your average automobile's engine other than size and cylinders.  In the portable generator's ICE, as in the automotive ICE, air (typically compressed in a gas burning design) is mixed with fuel, which has been pumped through a dust filter to ensure purity (and hence a clean burn) [source].  This archiecture is shown more explicitly below in some helpful pictures I tracked down.

Gas generator

Gas generator schematic
gas generator
[Image Source: Mutual Screw]

Any modern generator is controlled by some manner of injection logic circuit.  And no modern off the shelf generator is capable of handling ignition from a hydrogen fuel source.  That would require some pretty heavy modification.

Now it's important to note that hydrogen ICEs are most certainly feasible.  Hydrogen actually fueled the first ICEs (Google: "N. A. Otto", for instance).

That said while ICEs can run on hydrogen, safety aside the physical differences are big enough to require serious modification to the physical engine design (for efficiency's sake) and to the ignition logic (to achieve a clean burn).  Without getting into too many painful details suffice it to say that there are two crucial differences between hydrogen in an ICE versus gasoline in an ICE.

The first is displacement.  Gasoline occupies about 1 to 2 percent of the combustion chamber volume, while the very low density hydrogen occupies around 30 percent.  That's at least 15 times more volume!  Second, the ratio of air to gas by mass is nearly twice as high (34:1) as with gasoline (14.7:1).  So not only do you need to account for the big volume occupied by the low density hydrogen vapor, but you also need to add enough volume to fit in twice as much air.

hydrogen ICE

Burning hydrogen is wildly different than burning gas in terms of fuel ratios. [Image Source: DOE]

Clearly accomplishing those two tasks simultaneously requires some serious reworking of the fuel-air mix, if not the combustion chamber itself.

Moral of the story: unless these Nigerian teens are top level circuit board hackers who basically reworked their engine controller, there's no way their cute ICE is burning hydrogen.  It simply doesn't know how to [source; PDF].

And that means one thing and one thing only.  All those practicality issues aside, it's been overlooked for nearly two years now that they've told a major lie in terms of science.  

And that omission has allowed the story to continue to be passed along as if it's to some extent legitimate science.

True, there may be legit science here.  But the lie is far to big and bold to be treating this as some breakthrough or even a clever feat.  It's largely a bold misrepresentation, plain and simple.

To further seal the factual basis of that claim, it's worth noting that there is a secondary reason why hydrogen is almost always compressed into liquified form in test vehicles powered by hydrogen burning ICEs: ignition temperature.  Compressing the hydrogen not only keeps the fuel dense enough to be stored without breaking the bank weight-wise (in terms of the fuel tank weight), but it also substantially raises the ignition temperature.

Nigerian urine ICE generator

This construct has no compressor.  And without a compressor you're left with highly flammable hydrogen that shouldn't be anywhere near a MacGuyvered ICE (if that's truly what we're dealing with here).  If this was truly storing hydrogen at low density we'd be reading the ironic news of the massive explosion that struck the well-intentioned but ill-considered science fair experiment in Africa.  Clearly that didn't happen, so clearly there's little if any hydrogen in this setup.

And again, this points to one thing.  Clearly the inventors have lied in a major way regarding one of their boldest claims.  For shame.

(For more background and for those that have their doubts I recommend reading the DOE's module on hydrogen ICEs [PDF, also linked above] for basic background of what we're (supposedly) dealing with here.)

Thus the evidence overwhelmingly points to a common truth: the big bulky red ICE portable generator pictured in this much shared news story is not burning hydrogen.  That means there's one clearly verifiable deliberate misrepresentation here.

So is the nifty lightbulb power demo a lie too?  I'm inclined to say so.  Notice the hydrocarbon colored liquid feeding the generator.  That's no pee (not unless you're diseased, at least).  And note the power leads are going from the fossile fuel burning generator to the light bulb.  Oh boy.

And then you have the million dollar question -- is it making ANY hydrogen.  Well, that's the great mystery, isn't it.  On the one hand I would be inclined to say it's all garbage.  But then again thin (i.e. low power) wires do appear to be going from the generator to the "electrolytic cell".  And based on the chemistry, it makes sense that they're using urine and the science would dictate that they wouldn't need much power to perform their intended electrolysis.

So while most of this appears to be a shameless stunt, there's a decent likelihood they really are making hydrogen.  The problem is they have no practical way to utilize it.

Hydrogen fuel
Is the unit even making H2?  Who knows? [Image Source: Hdgn.com]

So to recap the Nigerian urine generator was likely inspired (or at least runs parallel to) a wild amalgamation of ideas that range from questionable (the microbial fuel cells (MFCs) of UWE) to outright fraudulent (e.g. the automotive hydrogen injection kits).  And at the end of the day the system visually fails to pass even the most basic of reality checks.

And yet maybe, just maybe it's making hydrogen.  The only problem is that it can't capture, store, and make use of it practically without additional mechanics and new electronics.  Thus at the end of the day, as the title says, this is all an exercise in "pissing into the wind" as the old saying goes.

Those MFCs from UWE may be a bit impractical based on the needs of the bacteria.  But compared to trying to capture, store, and burn hydrogen produced from urine in a rural setting, the future looks much brighter for the MFCs -- as questionable as they may be.  The ICE angle?  It's entertaining, but utterly impractical hence the farscical length these inventors went to to fabricate performance in their pitch.

V. Impracticality vs. Fabrication, or Why the Initial Debunking Proved Piss Poor

In closing let me better explain why I wrote this piece in the first place.  To clarify all of this has been said before to some extent.  The problem is that the pieces I found debunking this supposed generator missed the clear mechanical misrepresentations I discuss above and instead focused on questions of practicality which while certainly true are of less consequence with respect to the verisimilitude of the so-called "inventors".

Ultimately the story continues to spread in part because some early sources simply took it at face value, largely parroting the report from Maker Faire:
  • The Next Web (Nov. 2012; "Forget apps and useless startups: These four African girls have created a pee-powered generator")
  • Forbes ("Teens Create A Way To Use Urine As Fuel")
Of course, suspicions were eventually aroused, thanks in part to wary readers in technical fields who smelled something foul was afoot (and something that wasn't urine, mind you).  But those commentaries tended to miss the real red meat in terms of the fabrication regarding the portable generator.

Vice's Motherboard comments in a piece entitled "People Are Suspicious About This Pee-Powered Generator":

The machine is supposed work by filtering urine into water pure enough for the hydrogen to be extracted. That hydrogen is what powers the internal combustion engine in the generator that produces electricity. The only problem with this workflow is that it’s been widely proven that it takes more energy to split water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen atoms than the resultant hydrogen fuel is able to produce. This is why the fabled water-powered car project never really got off the ground. The choice of urine as a fuel, as we said before, seems a bit arbitrary, since urine is 95 percent water and the remaining ingredients are just a mixture of urea and minerals that don’t really have any of the properties of a useful fuel. Furthermore, if these teenage girls were even able to extract the hydrogen using spare parts, the machine itself would be incredibly explosive and unsafe. Maker Faire Africa actually admitted that this is the case. For more details on what’s wrong with the machine, just check out the comments on their website. They’re remarkably thorough.

A similar piece by NBC News makes a similar incredulous argument, while softening the blow with this quote from Gerardine Botte, a chemical engineering professor at Ohio University who co-invented the urea electrolysis process:

What these kids are doing is taking urea electrolysis and making hydrogen and then using that hydrogen to make electricity.  It is a high school project, so don’t take it [so seriously].  You will never get more energy out than you put in because you are treating urea … but it is a unique and elegant way to treat urine waste, which will allow you to co-generate electricity.

So to recap, these sources recognize that the science behind the electrolysis idea is real, but probably not commercially feasible in a rural setting at present.  Fair point.  But that doesn't really address the real problem here -- the apparent outright fabrication I discuss in detail above.

Botte Gerri
When it comes to Prof. Botte's opinion I respect her expertise and a part of me wants to agree with what she says.  For a science fair project, utilizing the professor's nely discovered, little known reaction as a route to more affordable hydrogen generation route is commendable.  That commendation of course, is predicated on the premise that they are indeed actually generating hydrogen using that portable fossil fuel-burning generator.


Ohio University Professor Gerradine Botte,
inventor of the urea electrolysis method

That said the project itself is wrapped up in enough overt fabrications that it comprises the solid science at the heart of the story, if indeed that is what is at the core.  Namely they claimed that ICE which may or may not be performing this electrolysis reaction on the urine was in fact powered by the hydrogen (see the banners) -- a clearly fraudulent claim from an academic perspective.


 



generator lies

Therein lies the real shame and irony: the students may actually be achieving the thing they made headlines for claiming to be doing.  The problem is that in making other false claims they've undermined their credibility.

All that said we must also consider the fact lies aside, they are just teens looking for intention, fame, and glory.  If we we can find it in our hearts to celebrate a known liar like Thomas Edison (who to his credit also accomplished plenty of impressive science, but was not above stooping to lies to pad his pocketbook) can we really blame them?  Perhaps we should give the inventors a pass as Prof. Botte suggests, even as we recognize the flaws in their claims.

Edison jerk

"Thomas Edison lied too!" ... well, uh yea, that is true. [Image Source: Wikimedia Commons]

The recognition is, after all the more important aspect.  The bigger picture problem here is that people are still quoting this story as if it is fact.  That is why I wrote this piece in hopes of enriching (er no pun intended) the picture of what is fact and what is fabrication.  Because if the inventors are guilty here, so too are media sources.

Of the pieces I read debunking this, most focused on the unpractical nature of electrolysis.  That's true, but they don't really explain WHY.  (Why being that the capture and storage is complex and adds greatly to the cost, low as the cost of basic production may be.)

To make matters worse none of the pieces I read dare to state the real elephant in the closet -- the fact that these young "inventors" claimed to be powering that bulky off the shelf generator with their hydrogen.  With that claim clearly established as a lie, it's much more abundantly clear why this story should be laid to rest.  After all, outright fabrication (the ICE claim) is far worse to the credibility of the claims than oversight (the economic practicality concerns).

red portable generator lie

Moving ahead, let's remember that the whole urine power -- or "urine-tricity" as Professor Ieropoulos colorfully dubs it -- will assuredly spurt into the media space from time to time.  MFCs and their milliwatts of power generating capacity are real and do use urine.  But significant technical hurdles remain to put that technology into use in the field -- most notably getting the bacteria to thrive in a tepid media.

And while scientists pitter away at that objective lets not confuse this wholly different "Nigerian pee generator" for the Gates Foundation funded fuel cell effort.  And compared to the MFCs the ICE hydrogen claims are not only fundamentally disparate from the perspective of basic science, but also separated by authenticity as well.

The pee ICE as it might be dubbed is more in league with the hydrogen injection fuel economy scams of the automotive space (and sadly probably has helped to perpetuate those scams to some small extent).  It's in part a yarn, even if there's some interesting link to real science housed inside.  Thus let us hope that the yarn can be buried, and the real science be refocused upon from here on out.

Source: Maker Faire





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