Producing hydrogen from urine

Jul 03, 2009
Sample of urine. Image: Wikipedia

(PhysOrg.com) -- You do two things at motorway services: fill up one tank and empty another. US chemists have combined refuelling your car and relieving yourself by creating a new catalyst that can extract hydrogen from urine.

Chemistry World reports that the catalyst could not only fuel the hydrogen-powered cars of the future, but could also help clean up municipal wastewater.

Gerardine Botte of Ohio University uses an electrolytic approach to produce from urine - the most abundant waste on Earth - at a fraction of the cost of producing hydrogen from water.

Urine's major constituent is urea, which incorporates four per molecule - importantly, less tightly bonded than the hydrogen atoms in water .

Botte uses electrolysis to break the molecule apart, developing an inexpensive new nickel-based electrode to selectively and efficiently oxidise the urea. To break the molecule down, a voltage of 0.37V needs to be applied across the cell - much less than the 1.23V needed to split water.

Her work is described in the Royal Society of Chemistry journal Chemical Communications.

“During the electrochemical process the urea gets adsorbed on to the nickel electrode surface, which passes the electrons needed to break up the molecule,” Botte told Chemistry World.

Botte believes the technology could be easily scaled-up to generate hydrogen while cleaning up the effluent from sewage plants. “We do not need to reinvent the wheel as there are already electrolysers being used in different applications.”

More information: B K Boggs, R L King and G G Botte, Chem. Commun., 2009, DOI: 10.1039/b905974a

Provided by Royal Society of Chemistry

Explore further: Celebrating 100 years of crystallography

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Scientists discover new way to make water

Oct 31, 2007

In a familiar high-school chemistry demonstration, an instructor first uses electricity to split liquid water into its constituent gases, hydrogen and oxygen. Then, by combining the two gases and igniting them with a spark, ...

Recommended for you

Proteins: New class of materials discovered

4 hours ago

Scientists at the Helmholtz Center Berlin along with researchers at China's Fudan University have characterized a new class of materials called protein crystalline frameworks.

The fluorescent fingerprint of plastics

Aug 21, 2014

LMU researchers have developed a new process which will greatly simplify the process of sorting plastics in recycling plants. The method enables automated identification of polymers, facilitating rapid separation ...

User comments : 19

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

otto1923
5 / 5 (4) Jul 03, 2009
What is left over and how do you clean IT up? Nitrates for fertilizer? Is the nickel reusable? Brilliant idea tho-
iknow
3.8 / 5 (4) Jul 03, 2009
Finally someone thinking with their head.....

As for peeing in the tank.... why not? Well, maybe in a container 1st piped to the converter. This would be the best news for Le Mans... drivers don't need to pee their pants (and the seat for the next driver) and will be able to go much longer just by having a pipe like astronauts.

As for residual waste ..Urea is fertiliser. The plants need N and not H from it anyway.
SDDuude
4.2 / 5 (5) Jul 03, 2009
Just another excuse for drinking and driving.
'Officer, I was running out of fuel.'
Lord_jag
5 / 5 (4) Jul 03, 2009
If at first you don't succeed, piss on it.
Nan2
1 / 5 (2) Jul 03, 2009
lol! How about the same for households? Now there's some sustainable yellow-green energy! (just don't confuse it with the apple juice) ;-)
jimbo92107
4.5 / 5 (4) Jul 03, 2009
Does this work for cow urine, too? How about pig urine? Racehorse urine? Skunk urine?

Wow!
getgoa
1.6 / 5 (7) Jul 03, 2009
Converting how a shrimp can strike a clam at 14 meters a second should be next to tackle here. We can leave the earth's atmosphere at 7meters a second-- How can we convert a shrimp striking a clam into real time usable fuel for us to space travel?
physpuppy
5 / 5 (3) Jul 03, 2009
Good question otto1923 - I believe the only waste is nitrogen, a question if it comes off as N2 or something else. That assumes Urea as the only component of urine...question to think about what else is found in urine and what happens to it when it undergoes electrolysis. Excess water soluble vitamins come out, salts, and...

The nickel electrode is reusable, but what happens in a lot of electrochemical processes is that the surface (thin top layer) of the electrode gets used up. While is is possible to keep polishing the surface and using the metal over and over for a very long time, the rate at which the surface requires treatment would be one ofthe parameters in determining how feasible this process is.

As for jimbo92107's post about sources of urine, the answer is that as long as the urine contains urea, this should work. For mammals, any source should work.


The 1.23 V they quote for water- well there are catalysts that could be added to bring the voltage down and make the process more efficient (one catalyst is vitamin B12, methylcobalamin - while it may or may not be as low as 0.37 quoted for urea, the article did not mention that possibility.

Sean_W
2.3 / 5 (3) Jul 03, 2009
Depending on how the reaction takes place (one molecule in separation or two together) and how the nickel functions (all well beyond my understanding) the products might be nitrogen gas and either CO2 (part of the natural carbon cycle) or even carbon monoxide which can be used to make fuel or used as a chemical feedstock.
Stiltpro
not rated yet Jul 03, 2009
So where/how would I get the nickel-based electrode ? Or a DIY test kit?
goldengod
3.7 / 5 (3) Jul 03, 2009
There are hundreds of resources on line for making an water to hydrogen electrolysis kit. Surely it can't be much different if not exactly the same for urine.

I'm surprised this is a new development though. How long have we known that urine had this molecular structure and looser bonding than water?

This is just another nail in the coffin for the constant drone of the hydrogen is too expensive crowd...

Combined with the chicken feather storage tanks which can allow enough non pressurized hydrogen for a normal sized car to be stored and costs around $250 to make we have a very viable solution.

Total cost of ownership for a complete hydrogen fuel system will be less than a $1000. Recycle chicken feathers. Recycle Urine. Recycle the waste product as fertilizer. This is a very efficient use of resources.

Oh well, it's never going to happen because there is no commercial value for the energy industry...

Actually maybe the chicken and sewage industries will see the financial value of being a player in the energy sector so this might have a small chance of success.
thales
4.9 / 5 (9) Jul 03, 2009
This is EXACTLY the sort of thing I've been saving my urine for.
Palli
not rated yet Jul 04, 2009

Total cost of ownership for a complete hydrogen fuel system will be less than a $1000. Recycle chicken feathers. Recycle Urine. Recycle the waste product as fertilizer. This is a very efficient use of resources.

This could make one high-tec farmer :D
physpuppy
5 / 5 (2) Jul 04, 2009
Stiltpro, you'd need a:

Potentiostat to control voltage
Nickel electrode (piece of nickel connected to a copper wire
Counter electrode (typically a platinum wire connected to a copper wire)
Reference electrode (typically silver/silver chloride)

You can buy all these parts at your friendly neighborhood electrochemical dealer such as Princeton Applied Research, Bio-Logic, Gamry Instruments [just Google potentiostat]

Everything can be built at home also if you know a little bit of electronics and can obtain materials for the electrodes - the metals, silver chloride, glass tubes, epoxy, some op amps transistors and resistors/capacitors. Lots of articles written how to in the analytical journals.

mkie
1 / 5 (1) Jul 04, 2009
goldengod
You forgetting one thing. Most of farm animals are corn feed. The corn use a lot of fertilizer and water made from natural gas and oil. So what happen that both natural gas and oil is gone? You have no source of your urine.

What interesting about the idea is that urea can be used as perfect storage for hydrogen. I assuming that the energy required for electrolysis is lower then the energy produced from by hydrogen reaction with oxygen. The energy density per volume should be very high comparing to pure hydrogen. No high pressure tanks are required.
RocketScience
5 / 5 (2) Jul 05, 2009
the products of the operation are potassium carbonate (a primary component of potash)and nitrogen from the anode and hydrogen from the cathode. indications are that because urea converts quickly into ammonia it would make sense to have smaller cells that convert the urea immediately into hydrogen. impurities can be filtered; generally urine is very concentrated in urea content with some salts (nacl)and water being the major consideration. if a solar powered compressor and electrolysis system were used it would present a carbon efficient means of converting and storing an abundant energy source. since nickle is a catalyst in this process the loss of the nickle material should be minor, however it would need to be determined what can contaminate the nickle surface. potassium carbonate can be reclaimed and used industrially. perhaps a carbon nanotube method of storage, or in the case of a stationary system a hydride storage method would work here.

since internal combustion engines can run on hydrogen one could start using this now even though fuel cell technology is not mainstream yet...just a thought.
HYDRODRIVE
1 / 5 (2) Jul 07, 2009
Dr.Gerardine Botte of Ohio University experiment has already been applied by me in a gasoline car emulsified with urine.The vehicle runs much smoother due to hydrogen from both urine and water changing the combustion kinetics.The urine or water emulsified fuel is passed through the patented HYDRODRIVE SYNTHESIZER cum Electronic Catalytic Convertor for MOLECULAR ENGINEERING OF MATERIALS which deprotonate water (H plus)leaving behind oxidised water with an increased pH with reduced power of direct current.With a reduced alternating power,the same process and the synthesizer increase the pH value of water indicating Hydrogen addition.The electronic catalytic convertor cum synthesizer has immense applications in molecular engineering of materials from
lipids,pharmaceuticals,proteins,life sciences,water for good health,accelerating algae growth for biofuel,certain crops and fruits yield enhancements, second generation bio fuels production,enhancing fuel cell output including reforming the input fuel,synthesis of several liquids including petrol,diesel,petro products, gases and materials including hydrogen production from water,sea water,effluent water and steam.It also synthesis carbon monoxide to carbon di oxide making oxidised water to act as a catalyst(normally water poison the catalysts and evoporate at the high catalyst temperatures) for oxidation to carbon di oxide or help to produce synthetic gas using carbon monoxide and hydrogen at reduced power.Dr.Paul De Vadder of Belgium a visiting professor of MIT has also carried out studies in one of leading German university to confirm deprotonation of water and the activation characteristics of the synthesizer in Romania and in Belgium.The details of the synthesizer cum electronic catalytic convertor is available at:
http://www.hydrod.../ECC.htm

An ONDEMAND petrol and diesel emulsification system for the boilers,external furnaces and for use with power generators have also been tested successfully with 25% water in diesel DELIVERING SAME THERMAL EFFICIENCY at reduced fuel cost.

The synthesizer is an ideal and economical solution for on demand hydrogen production from sea water and OTHER HYDROGEN RICH MATERIALS AND LIQUIDS.We can also use the OXIDISED (OH RICH) WATER or the hydrogen with the biomass or wood gas produced carbon monoxide to synthesis both as the producer gas for economical energy use.

My sincere thanks to Dr.Gerardine Botte of Ohio University for her work which confirms my PRACTICAL EXPERIMENTS OF USING URINE AS AN EMULSIFIED FUEL along with my patented process and synthesizer for molecular engineering of materails and the synthesizer.
Nartoon
1 / 5 (1) Jul 11, 2009
Can this urea be used to turn any car into a car bomb? Yes!
What about where the weather goes below zero? No H, no go!
CaptnStarbird
not rated yet Jul 14, 2009
Where has all the urine gone, long time passin',
Where has all the urine gone, long time ago,
Where has all the urine gone, gone from the children every one,
When will we ever learn,
When will we ever learn?