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Waste Reduction natures_head

Published on December 30th, 2009 | by Susan Kraemer

17

Toilets That Separate Pee For Urea-Hydrogen Fuel Harvesting Already on Market

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December 30th, 2009 by
 

Earlier this year, our sister blog: Gas 2.0 covered the use of using pee for fuel after a breakthrough at Ohio University published this summer in the Royal Society of Chemistry’s journal, Chemical Communications.

Ohio University researcher Gerardine Botte had developed a catalyst that could extract hydrogen fuel from urine much more cheaply than water.

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The breakthrough was important because water is increasingly scarce in many regions, and will get even more so, the worse that climate change gets.

And that means that we won’t be able to spare water to make fuel. And that’s why a specialty new waterless toilet that separates liquids from solids might just be in your future.

Botte developed a cheap new nickel-based electrode that was able to selectively and efficiently oxidize urea to break apart the molecule to get hydrogen out. Not only was the electrode cheaper, but by using urea instead of water, she got twice the hydrogen at a third of the effort.

Only 0.37 volts were needed to strip urea’s four hydrogen atoms because they are not as tightly stuck together as the two hydrogen atoms in water. So: hydrogen fuel breakthrough.

But first urine needs to be separated.  And harvested. And put on the market.

Here’s how that could happen. We would use toilets that don’t use water, a valuable resource. Instead we would separate out those valuable liquids from solid wastes. Sound implausible? As Gar Smith at Alternet describes this idea today:

“That is not such a strange idea: The human body is designed to send solid and liquid wastes in opposite directions. One immediate result of separating pee from poo is the elimination of the unpleasant aromas associated with the traditional outhouse.

While installing waterless toilets in high-rise apartments might raise certain engineering challenges, “urine-separating dry toilets” are being adopted around the world — from South Africa, Peru, Cuba, and India.”

That’s all very well for them, but what about for us in the US?

It turns out that a company called Natures Head has already developed a toilet that separates liquids and solids. While they had developed it to meet the hygiene needs of US boaters and RV-ers – their toilet has real application in pee harvesting, because it’s a dry toilet that separates liquids from solids, and composts the solid waste with the addition of peat moss.

They invented it because separating the liquids and solids helps boats and RVs not smell. The longer you let a composting toilet sit, the better it will smell when it’s time to empty it. That’s because the longer a composting toilet sits the more time it has to turn waste back into earth.

But it’s the urea that’s the real gold. Maybe that company should revamp its branding and marketing; spruce up the website a little to reach beyond the RV customer to the larger world. Because that humble little bucket of harvested pee in the front? You can pour that on the garden, because it makes great fertilizer.

Or you would store it in a larger bucket in the garage for routine kerbside recycling pickup to be recycled into the fuel of the future.

Image: Natures Head

Source: Alternet

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About the Author

writes at CleanTechnica, CSP-Today, PV-Insider , SmartGridUpdate, and GreenProphet. She has also been published at Ecoseed, NRDC OnEarth, MatterNetwork, Celsius, EnergyNow, and Scientific American. As a former serial entrepreneur in product design, Susan brings an innovator's perspective on inventing a carbon-constrained civilization: If necessity is the mother of invention, solving climate change is the mother of all necessities! As a lover of history and sci-fi, she enjoys chronicling the strange future we are creating in these interesting times.    Follow Susan on Twitter @dotcommodity.



  • Susan Kraemer

    You’ll have no argument from me on that JJ – I too prefer the efficiency of straight EVs for transport over hydrogen-fueled. But there are other uses for hydrogen.

  • JJ

    The question is exactly what do you want to do with the hydrogen?

    If you are pining for the hydrogen economy as RMI’s Amory Lovins seems to along with all his oil, coal, gas buddies, I am afraid the hydrogen economy has been debunked. The battery powered EV is already far more efficient than the hydrogen Fuel Cell powered EV and is moving along at a far faster clip in R/D as is often pointed out here.

    If you want huge quantities of hydrogen, then steam reforming it from natural gas is probably far cheaper and is used for 95% of hydrogen supplies. When water + electricity is used, it is done with only the very cheapest electricity at rates closer to 2c/kWh which is hardly the same as the rates we all get. And if you can get electricity that cheap, water will be “free” too.

    I thinks Gerardine Botte has discovered an interesting solution to a non problem. I would have thought that extracting phosphorous would be far more useful since that appears to be another finite resource we are running out of.

    If she indeed gets 2x the hydrogen at one third the effort vs water which usually is up to 70% efficient in electrolysis, then this urea hydrogen is about 400% efficient. That would mean over unity. However put the released hydrogen into a Fuel Cell at 50% efficient and you get 2x the electricity that you used to split it. While this is a neat trick, I hardly think it is worth the effort or the cost of the Fuel cell plus the collection of the pee.

  • JJ

    The question is exactly what do you want to do with the hydrogen?

    If you are pining for the hydrogen economy as RMI’s Amory Lovins seems to along with all his oil, coal, gas buddies, I am afraid the hydrogen economy has been debunked. The battery powered EV is already far more efficient than the hydrogen Fuel Cell powered EV and is moving along at a far faster clip in R/D as is often pointed out here.

    If you want huge quantities of hydrogen, then steam reforming it from natural gas is probably far cheaper and is used for 95% of hydrogen supplies. When water + electricity is used, it is done with only the very cheapest electricity at rates closer to 2c/kWh which is hardly the same as the rates we all get. And if you can get electricity that cheap, water will be “free” too.

    I thinks Gerardine Botte has discovered an interesting solution to a non problem. I would have thought that extracting phosphorous would be far more useful since that appears to be another finite resource we are running out of.

    If she indeed gets 2x the hydrogen at one third the effort vs water which usually is up to 70% efficient in electrolysis, then this urea hydrogen is about 400% efficient. That would mean over unity. However put the released hydrogen into a Fuel Cell at 50% efficient and you get 2x the electricity that you used to split it. While this is a neat trick, I hardly think it is worth the effort or the cost of the Fuel cell plus the collection of the pee.

  • JJ

    The question is exactly what do you want to do with the hydrogen?

    If you are pining for the hydrogen economy as RMI’s Amory Lovins seems to along with all his oil, coal, gas buddies, I am afraid the hydrogen economy has been debunked. The battery powered EV is already far more efficient than the hydrogen Fuel Cell powered EV and is moving along at a far faster clip in R/D as is often pointed out here.

    If you want huge quantities of hydrogen, then steam reforming it from natural gas is probably far cheaper and is used for 95% of hydrogen supplies. When water + electricity is used, it is done with only the very cheapest electricity at rates closer to 2c/kWh which is hardly the same as the rates we all get. And if you can get electricity that cheap, water will be “free” too.

    I thinks Gerardine Botte has discovered an interesting solution to a non problem. I would have thought that extracting phosphorous would be far more useful since that appears to be another finite resource we are running out of.

    If she indeed gets 2x the hydrogen at one third the effort vs water which usually is up to 70% efficient in electrolysis, then this urea hydrogen is about 400% efficient. That would mean over unity. However put the released hydrogen into a Fuel Cell at 50% efficient and you get 2x the electricity that you used to split it. While this is a neat trick, I hardly think it is worth the effort or the cost of the Fuel cell plus the collection of the pee.

  • Susan Kraemer

    You’ll have no argument from me on that JJ – I too prefer the efficiency of straight EVs for transport over hydrogen-fueled. But there are other uses for hydrogen.

  • Susan Kraemer

    To be more widely used, this camper toilet would need a more elegant design: here’s a greywater harvesting toilet that also is a radical idea: http://www.homedesignfind.com/bed-bath/elegant-greywater-recycling-in-the-bathroom/

  • Susan Kraemer

    @Don great idea:

    What about creating a way to make this more valuable?

    -locations that collect urea – maybe even purchase?

  • Susan Kraemer

    @Don great idea:

    What about creating a way to make this more valuable?

    -locations that collect urea – maybe even purchase?

  • chrisp68

    Just imagine how much you could get from a single football game… hundreds of gallons.

  • chrisp68

    Just imagine how much you could get from a single football game… hundreds of gallons.

  • chrisp68

    Just imagine how much you could get from a single football game… hundreds of gallons.

  • Susan Kraemer

    To be more widely used, this camper toilet would need a more elegant design: here’s a greywater harvesting toilet that also is a radical idea: http://www.homedesignfind.com/bed-bath/elegant-greywater-recycling-in-the-bathroom/

  • Susan Kraemer

    @Don great idea:

    What about creating a way to make this more valuable?

    -locations that collect urea – maybe even purchase?

  • http://rantd.blogspot.com/ Don Clark – Atlanta, GA

    What about creating a way to make this more valuable?

    -locations that collect urea – maybe even purchase?

    -public drop off (like our recycling facilities)

    $850 is a hefty investment without any solid answers on a return

    http://www.natureshead.net/store/index.php?main_page=product_info&products_id=1&zenid=23184f92b096fdd70e1b29cb97cdbd27

  • http://rantd.blogspot.com/ Don Clark – Atlanta, GA

    What about creating a way to make this more valuable?

    -locations that collect urea – maybe even purchase?

    -public drop off (like our recycling facilities)

    $850 is a hefty investment without any solid answers on a return

    http://www.natureshead.net/store/index.php?main_page=product_info&products_id=1&zenid=23184f92b096fdd70e1b29cb97cdbd27

  • MD

    Hey, so I should go ahead and pick up the gallon milk jugs the truckers dump in the ditches along the highway.. I’ll be rich, rich I tell ya…

    LOL

  • MD

    Hey, so I should go ahead and pick up the gallon milk jugs the truckers dump in the ditches along the highway.. I’ll be rich, rich I tell ya…

    LOL

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