Need to fill up your hydrogen powered car? Pull up to the port-o-johnny

As we look for different way to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels to power out automobiles hydrogen has been suggested as an excellent source of vehicle power. The big problem with that though is the inherent high price of converting water into hydrogen and oxygen. This means that all the hydrogen in production today comes via the use of fossil fuels.

However US researcher Gerardine Botte from Ohio University may have just found a way to utilize urine through an electrolytic process to produce hydrogen. This would result in the power source being created at a fraction of the cost it currently takes.

Botte says the idea came to her several years ago at a conference on fuel cells, where they were discussing how to turn clean water into clean power. ‘I wondered how we could do this better,’ she adds – so started looking at waste streams as a better source of molecules from which to produce hydrogen.

Urine’s major constituent is urea, which incorporates four hydrogen atoms per molecule – importantly, less tightly bonded than the hydrogen atoms in water molecules. Botte used 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.

‘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. Pure hydrogen is evolved at the cathode, while nitrogen plus a trace of oxygen and hydrogen were collected at the anode. While carbon dioxide is generated during the reaction, none is found in the collected gasses as it reacts with the potassium hydroxide in the solution to form potassium carbonate

Source: RSC :: Chemistry World – Urine turned into hydrogen fuel

Granted we aren’t likely to be pulling up to port-o-johns instead of gas pumps any time soon but you gotta admire people who are willing to brave experimenting with our bodily function left-over’s on the off chance we can use them in a good way.

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