Do you love the adventure of a road trip, but could do without the constant gas station pit stops to refuel and – ahem – release? Well, chemists have found a way to combine refueling your car and relieving yourself by creating a new catalyst that is able to extract hydrogen from urine. The process which was discovered by Gerardine Botte of Ohio University focuses in on a catalyst that would have a variety of applications, including fuel for hydrogen powered cars and cleaning up municipal waters.
The process uses electrolysis to break down the urea in urine, which incorporates four hydrogen atoms per molecule. Because these atoms are less tightly bonded than the hydrogen atoms in water molecules, using urine as an alternative for hydrogen also proves to be more cost effective than water. Quite a feat considering urine is the most abundant waste on the planet.
The electrolysis mechanism utilizes an inexpensive new nickel-based electrode to selectively and efficiently oxidize the urea. From there a voltage of 0.37V is applied across the cell to break the molecule down. “During the electrochemical process the urea gets absorbed on to the nickel electrode surface, which passes the electron’s 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 sewage plants. Moreover, another advantage is that electrolysers are already being used for a number of different applications, removing the need to seek out investment capital to startup a company that would produce the equipment.