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Transportation Earth Power Technology

Can Urine Rescue Hydrogen-Powered Cars? 313

Posted by timothy
from the use-every-part-of-the-animal dept.
thecarchik writes with this interesting excerpt: "It takes a lot of energy to split hydrogen out from the other atoms to which it binds, either in natural gas or water. Which means energy analysts are skeptical about the overall energy balance of cars fueled by hydrogen. Ohio University researcher Geraldine Botte has come up with a nickel-based electrode to oxidize (NH2)2CO, otherwise known as urea, the major component of animal urine. Because urea's four hydrogen atoms are less tightly bound to nitrogen than the hydrogen bound to oxygen in water molecules, it takes less energy to break them apart."
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Can Urine Rescue Hydrogen-Powered Cars?

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 08, 2009 @01:45PM (#28626351)

    Only if they relax the drunk-driving laws. I don't see any other way the economics can work.

  • Urea? (Score:4, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 08, 2009 @01:46PM (#28626369)

    first piss!

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by mcgrew (92797)
      1. You misspelled "frosty"
      2. You weren't the frost psot
      3. this comment is offtopic
      4. ??????????
      5. Profit?
      • Errrm...stupid question, maybe, but....

        How exactly is the GP offtopic?

        Immature, maybe. But offtopic?

  • Hmm... (Score:5, Funny)

    by XPeter (1429763) * on Wednesday July 08, 2009 @01:46PM (#28626371) Homepage

    Sperm and now urine? I'll take a guess and say the next article will be about crap.

  • by Fallen Kell (165468) on Wednesday July 08, 2009 @01:46PM (#28626377)
    Well, if this does work, it looks like the waste processing plants will get a complete overhaul. But that assumes there is a easy way to separate the urea from the water and other things that flow down the sewer lines....
    • But that assumes there is a easy way to separate the urea from the water and other things that flow down the sewer lines....

      Of course there's an easy way. You have one line explicitly for liquid waste and another for solid waste. Problem solved!

      I didn't say it would be cheap. I only gave an easy solution to the problem.
      • by sumdumass (711423)

        It would probably be easier to ignore the human waste stream and just force farmers who are being taxed for their cow farts to build lagoons to catch the animal wastes and pump that to the processor plant.

    • by Electrawn (321224) <electrawn.yahoo@com> on Wednesday July 08, 2009 @01:58PM (#28626605) Homepage

      Urea is a common component in a lot of industrial applications, notably cosmetics, soap and animal feed. No need to really source it from the sewer, industrial vats make this stuff every day.

      Telling women what exactly "Urea" is in the ingredients of their makeup case is great fun...

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Urea [wikipedia.org]

      • by Rei (128717) on Wednesday July 08, 2009 @02:16PM (#28626877) Homepage

        And therein lies the rub. It's way too expensive and inefficient to recover from natural sources (it makes up ~2% of urine, mixed in with ~3% "other"), so we make it synthetically from ammonia. Which is made via the Haber process. Which in turn use coal or natural gas as feedstocks. Gee, that's really going to solve the efficiency problem right there...

        • by Colin Smith (2679) on Wednesday July 08, 2009 @03:38PM (#28627973)

          Fertiliser production. Also using the Haber-Bosch process with obvious implications for the cost of food vs fuel.

          There are 4 big things we can do to save the world, and dependency on oil.

          1: Stop throwing away 60% of our energy through "waste" heat. Which is pretty much what every electricity generating plant does.
          2: Stop using 50% of our 40% efficient electricity to move heat around... See air conditioning.
          3: Stop using 17% efficient vehicles to move us around.
          4: Stop generating artificial fertilisers.

          The solutions?

          1: District Heating and District cooling.
          2: Insulation, thermal mass. District cooling and/or evaporative cooling.
          3: Walk. Battery electric vehicles for relatively short journeys, personal rapid transit for intermediate and rail for longer journeys.
          4: Stop discharging human waste into the ocean. Compost it to destroy pathogens and start using it as fertiliser. The current methods simply move NPK from the land to the ocean.

          p.s. I don't expect any of this to actually happen. Humans are stupid animals and it's easier to kill others who threaten resource consumption than it is to change.
           

    • by eln (21727)
      If it can really be efficiently produced from urine, we should be able to collect all we need from factory pig and dairy farms.
    • by HTH NE1 (675604)

      Nah, just drive down any major highway with a lot of long-haul trucking. You can be sure that before you run out, you'll find another 2-Liter bottle of the stuff by the side of the road.

  • This would only work if I was paid to use the bathroom. Otherwise, I'd be flushing money down the toilet.
    • I'm pretty sure you are actaully paying to use the bathroom. Someone processes your wastewater, and they don't do it for free. Unless, of course, you just dump all that shit in a river or something. In any case, if the waste facilities could extract the urine and sell it off, maybe the costs to you could be lowered as well. Something tells me there are issues with extracting it from sewage, though.
  • by greatica (1586137) on Wednesday July 08, 2009 @01:47PM (#28626399)

    Try pissing in my gas tank now!

  • by Virtucon (127420) on Wednesday July 08, 2009 @01:49PM (#28626429)

    The cars powered by this will smell like Bourbon Street.

  • Way Cool (Score:5, Funny)

    by flaming error (1041742) on Wednesday July 08, 2009 @01:49PM (#28626435) Journal

    Cool. We burn our pee in the car, collect pure water from the tailpipe, drink the water and pee again.

    Perpetual urination FTW.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Sefi915 (580027)
      Unfortunately, it wouldn't be a 100% efficient cycle.

      Due to human perspiration and respiration, not all of the water ingested by the driver/passengers/donors/etc would be returned as urea.

  • Just 0.037 Volts... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by fahrbot-bot (874524) on Wednesday July 08, 2009 @01:49PM (#28626443)

    Because urea's four hydrogen atoms are less tightly bound to nitrogen than the hydrogen bound to oxygen in water molecules, it takes less energy to break them apart."

    Apparently, a lot less. From TFA: "Just 0.037 Volts need to be applied across the cell, against the 1.23 Volts needed to break down water."

    • by blueg3 (192743) on Wednesday July 08, 2009 @01:56PM (#28626573)

      When did they make volts a unit of energy?

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward

        What they didn't tell you is that it takes about 33 times longer. They're not sure why, though.

      • by mybecq (131456)
        The statement justifying the lower energy requirement can still be acceptable, since Joules = Volts * Coulombs. The presumption would have to be that the Coulombs is constant, which is fair enough as they imply they are talking about the same number of hydrogen atoms. If anyone wants an analogy:
        "Just 5mph of velocity was needed for the bullet to break through the paper, versus the 600 mph needed to get through the steel."

        Although velocity is not a unit of energy, you know that more energy wa
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by rcw-home (122017)

        When did they make volts a unit of energy?

        They made the Electron Volt [wikipedia.org] a unit of energy when they needed a way to describe how much energy difference there is between two particle states, for example the amount of energy needed to electrolyse a single molecule.

    • by Sandbags (964742) on Wednesday July 08, 2009 @02:13PM (#28626831) Journal

      I don't care how much less it is... There is simply not enough urea made in the entire country on a daily bases to produce enough H2 for fuel for even a small city.

      Really, how many gallons a day do you piss? Considder then that urea is only a fractional percentage of that pee. (about 95% of typical urine is water, the rest is a combination of mostly urea as well as other contaminants removed by the kidneys).

      I'd have to piss somewhere in the neighborhood of 40 gallons a day to have enough fuel just to handle my daily commute. Then there's the energy loss seperating the urea at the water treatment plant, hooking houses on septic up to sewers to collect the additional urine (about 35% of the country doens't have a sewer), then transport of the seperated urea to an H2 processing plant, and THEN, what do you plan to DO with the H2? We can't afford to run it in our cars... (current fuel cells cost about $750,000 once you take away the government subsidies. They THINK they can make em for about $100,000 in 15-20 years....

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by cbiltcliffe (186293)

        I'd have to piss somewhere in the neighborhood of 40 gallons a day to have enough fuel just to handle my daily commute.

        So that just gives you an(other) excuse to get very drunk at work. :)

        • by scorp1us (235526)

          This is the Bender principal. Not only do you consume alcohol for fuel, but you get to go on a "bender" every day!

      • There is simply not enough urea made in the entire country on a daily bases to produce enough H2 for fuel for even a small city.

        Apparently, you've never been to Boston on St. Patrick's Day. :-)

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by catmistake (814204)

        I don't care how much less it is... There is simply not enough urea made in the entire country on a daily bases to produce enough H2 for fuel for even a small city.

        I disagree. There is easily 40 gallons of urine produced daily for each person on the continent. You're only taking into account human produced urea... but any urea would do. There's a lot of horses and cows in this country, they make it too... and if we could tap into the urea produced by rats... but this is assuming cows, horses and rats don't need it for their own cars.

  • ...piss-take.
  • Peeing in my neighbors gas tank will no longer have the desired effect.
  • by PeterM from Berkeley (15510) <petermardahl.yahoo@com> on Wednesday July 08, 2009 @01:52PM (#28626503) Journal

    I can see two possible problems with this. Urea is a product of amino acid metabolization, in other words, protein breakdown. Somehow I think it'd take quite a lot of energy to provide the protein to provide the urea.

    Second problem, what're the reaction by-products? That wasn't clear in the article. If nitrogen gas is a by-product, that basically reverses the very energy intensive process of fixing nitrogen. We'd be better off using the urea as fertilizer to grow food rather than as fuel.

    --PM

    • by schon (31600)

      Urea is a product of amino acid metabolization, in other words, protein breakdown. Somehow I think it'd take quite a lot of energy to provide the protein to provide the urea.

      Egads, you're right!

      Now that we know this, every mammal on the planet will stop producing urea because it's inefficient!

      • by DeadChobi (740395)

        We produce Urea because it's a much safer thing to transport through the bloodstream than the ammonia which is produced by the body's metabolization of proteins.

    • by vuo (156163) on Wednesday July 08, 2009 @02:05PM (#28626709) Homepage

      You're right about the energy balance for the wrong reasons, and also the article submitter has screwed up. No one is suggesting urine, which the journalist made up on the spot, and which fails the capacity requirement to boot. The pure industrial chemical urea is mostly produced synthetically from ammonia and carbon dioxide, and ammonia is made from hydrogen and nitrogen. Hydrogen is currently produced mostly from natural gas and similar sources, which means it won't solve anything, and the carbon dioxide should be non-fossil also for the carbon cycle to be closed. In summary, what we have here is another way to produce synthetic fuel from natural gas or carbonaceous masses like coal or organic matter. The good thing is that the fuel precursor is noncombustible; the bad is that it's completely unproven and even hypothetical, and its energy density is not known.

  • just pee into the gas tank. Bring your dog or cat with you, and have them pee into the gas tank as well.

    Urine powered automobiles for teh win!

  • We first just need to build urine collectors for livestock to separate the urine from the other waste. We then need to run this through a urine-tolerant reverse osmosis system and concentrate the solution from the ~5% solution it starts at. We then need to extract the urea from the salts and proteins (which make up more of urine per mass than urea does). We then need to use energy to separate the urea (just not as much with water). And this is supposed to solve an efficiency problem?

    Yawn.

    Think about it

    • Think about it this way: if urea was actually a reasonable energy source, we'd already be concentrating it and burning it for power.

      Not really...it took us til the 1930s to really grasp the power of the atom. By the logic above, we already should have had nuclear plants otherwise it wouldn't be efficient.

      (I make no assumptions on how efficient piss power will be...I'm just saying as technology advances, more reasonable energy sources can be made that weren't even pipe dreams decades earlier.)

  • by Fooby (10436) on Wednesday July 08, 2009 @01:59PM (#28626617)

    Urea will never be a significant energy source. Think about it, cars use far more energy than the total caloric intake of an animal (human or otherwise) per day. Yet WASTE product is supposed to supply all the energy needs of our vehicles?

    Secondly, this would directly compete with our food sources even more so than biodiesel already does. Urea is a nitrogen fertilizer source that is in short supply. We already manufacture most of the world's urea supply from atmospheric nitrogen using up energy (mostly natural gas) in the process.

    So in short, while this research may be of practical and academic interest, it is not going to usher in a new era of piss-powered cars.

    • I don't think it's a case of "Every engine in the world must be converted to run on hydrogen obtained from urea, NOW!"

      I think it's more like "This could be an environmentally friendly way to run a generator at say, a hospital or sports stadium." The first would be fairly easy to retrofit for collection, and the second....well, let's just say there's a LOT of pissing going on there.

    • by mattack2 (1165421)

      Yet WASTE product is supposed to supply all the energy needs of our vehicles?

      I'm not saying that *this* idea will be valuable, but people having ideas like this could all be small steps towards the greater goal.

      Speaking of waste, what about the manure to methane conversion? Admittedly, some of google's top results say that doing that can be expensive to start, but just like solar, it can pay for itself eventually.

  • This technology is going to need an awful lot of pee. 60 litres in an average tank - that's all got to come from someone's (or something's bladder) Even if you only fill up once a month, that's 2 litres a day - which is pretty much what we're recommended as a daily fluid intake (depends on body mass, age etc.). Plus, of course the urea content of the average whizz is nowhere near 100%, and when sweating and vapour in breath is included we're going to need all the urine from every driver and all the passeng
  • I love this idea (Score:2, Interesting)

    by ZeroSerenity (923363)
    I'd never have to stop driving to relieve myself again. Just make sure I've got plenty of water handy.
  • This would be hilarious as a petrol station attendant.
    "Lovely Mayback sir, mind if I piss in the tank?"
    "Go ahead son, fill her up!"
  • What if ? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by dword (735428) on Wednesday July 08, 2009 @02:13PM (#28626825)

    ... we run out of water, because we drink it all and instead of peeing it back on Mother Nature we break it into other particles?
    While this sounds rather strange, you should realize that it's only a matter of "when?" instead of "will it?" Just for the heck of it, does anyone have any idea how this period can be computed?

    • When you burn hydrogen in a fuel cell or internal combustion engine, you get - shock of shocks - water.

      As long as we keep using the fuel we generate like this, there will never be a lack of water.

    • by mcgrew (92797)

      It still comes back as water. If you you split water into hydrogen and oxygen by inserting electricity, when you burn the hydrogen the ehxhaust is good old dihydrogen oxide (AKA "water")

  • Looking at it, after your strip the 4 O atoms, it looks like you'd get 2CO + N2 (carbon monoxide and Nitrogen gas). Anyone know what the real reaction would be? NO2 + C? (could you then feed the NO2 into your engine, or yourself?)

  • by bperkins (12056) on Wednesday July 08, 2009 @02:22PM (#28626971) Homepage Journal
    but in this case it's a good thing.
  • ...who control barter town?

  • The Romans made great use of human urine in their day; why shouldn't we do the same? In ancient Rome, citizens were actually "taxed" their urine; that is, the government required that they give it to them. And then they sold it back to them in more useful forms. Sounds like a great way to get our government out of the financial mess they're in!
  • We used to joke about no-name gas stations selling "Horse Piss". Guess
    it won't be a joke much longer!

  • by macbeth66 (204889) on Wednesday July 08, 2009 @02:47PM (#28627349)

    If it works, it would be a very green... er... yellow solution.

  • Surely... (Score:3, Funny)

    by w0mprat (1317953) on Wednesday July 08, 2009 @02:52PM (#28627435)
    they are just taking the piss out of us.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 08, 2009 @04:16PM (#28628475)

    won't this produce large amounts of NO(x) pollutants?

  • Wait a second (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Well-Fed Troll (1267230) on Wednesday July 08, 2009 @06:57PM (#28630213)
    Hold on a second. If the energy required to split urea into hydrogen is very small, you've just solved the hydrogen storage problem.

    Crack the urea on the fly to hydrogen and combust it down to water. What are the waste products of the electrolysis?

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