Researchers at Heriot-Watt University in the United Kingdom have figured out how to use urea as a fuel for low-cost fuel cells. Fuel cells are a great form of alternative energy for all kinds of things — cars, submarines, remote power stations — but concern over the cost of hydrogen and its explosive nature keep the technology from being widely used. Using urea — which is present in all animal and human urine — instead of hydrogen could be a low cost alternative to these super low-emission systems.

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Dr Shanwen Tao and his research partner Dr Rong Lan have developed the urea fuel cell system which they call the Carbamide Power System. They have just been awarded a grant of $200,000 by the Engineering and Physical Science Research Council to continue their research. Fuel cells work by converting chemical energy into electricity with heat as a byproduct — hydrogen fuel cells are the most widespread and they emit water as a byproduct.

Hydrogen fuel cells also require extremely expensive membranes to create energy. Tao and Lan’s fuel cell uses a much less expensive membrane and the components are totally harmless — urea is used as fuel instead of highly flammable and expensive hydrogen. Even better, this fuel is totally renewable — just keep drinking those 8 glasses of water a day. Dr. Tao is excited about the prospects of their discovery. Tao noted that, “if this renewable material can be used as a commercially-viable and environmentally-friendly energy source then we will be absolutely delighted, and many people around the world will benefit.”

+ Youtricity

Via Physorg