Think Globally, Pee Locally: Urine-Powered Disaster Zone Lighting


An invention that I see becoming pretty popular in places where human overpopulation creates a torrid scenario for both waste management and lighting, let alone just having any lighting itself… solving the problem of lighting in places where there is no power (or even fuel to make the power) just does not get the kind of funding that it deserves.  This is urine-powered electricity.  From Reuters:

A toilet that uses urine to generate electricity will soon light up dark corners of refugee camps after being tested by students in the UK. The pioneering toilet, the result of collaboration between global aid agency Oxfam and the University of the West of England in Bristol, uses live microbes which feed on urine and convert it into power.

Led by Professor Ioannis Ieropoulos, the scientists developed microbial fuel cells that use bacteria grown on carbon fiber anodes that feed on urine, breaking it down and generating electricity which is stored in a capacitor. They used up to 24 of these microbial fuel cells in 2013 to prove that urine could produce enough electricity to power a mobile phone. For the pee-power toilet they are using 288 fuel cells, though a thousand-unit cell stack is planned for the next version of the device.

This is the work of Professor Ioannis Ieropoulos from The University of the West of England, Bristol:

Ok, for those of you that didn’t watch the video, from Power Technology:

The technology works by utilising specialised, naturally-abundant microbes, housed within the anodic chamber of the fuel cell as a bio-catalyst. When fed urine, the microbes naturally consume it as part of their normal metabolic process, which in turn generates electrons. When connected to a cathode, these electrodes are given a path and generate a current.

Urine has never been exploited for power purposes before now. Although it has been proven technically possible, can it be scaled up and is it practical? In this second phase of research the scientists want to prove the answer is yes to both of these questions. They will now be working to maximise the power output, which will inadvertently have the advantage of improved breakdown of the waste material, thus making it safer for disposal.

The ultimate aim, however, is to develop and refine the process to make enough energy to charge a battery, and in the future, be installed into domestic bathrooms to harness the urine and produce sufficient electricity to power showers, lighting or razors.

“The beauty of this fuel source is that we are not relying on the erratic nature of the wind or the sun; we are actually re-using waste to create energy,” said Dr Ieropoulos.

Why does it deserve funding?  One reason – lighting creates safety.  Families feel they can protect themselves during times like this when there is illumination.  We are humans; darkness is our #1 largest predatory fear bred by evolution, and we’ve been praying to the light during the darkness for millions of years, regardless of species.  Look at North Korea, for example, even though this isn’t what the article is really about — what do you think the lack of power and light does for people?  It allows you to enslave them:


Proper management of human waste in places where a major disaster event has happened also happens to be the second most important thing to provide.  There are emergency waste management guides for conflict zones and disaster event zones all over the place, which should give an idea of the importance of something along these lines, providing a use for waste and a positive item to the zone itself.


Here’s a bit of an eye-opening reason why waste management in disaster regions is important… from Johns Hopkins/Red Cross (PDF link) on getting a community in a disaster zone involved in their own management quickly, which is what the Professor’s work does, by providing light:

Experience has shown that wide-ranging benefits result when communities actively involved in their own health and participate in water and sanitation projects. Using participatory approaches to engage the community has many benefits. Such approaches give community members the opportunity to build and strengthen problem-solving skills Public health guide for emergencies I 381 Water, sanitation and hygiene in emergencies 8 and empower them to take action. While communities, initially, might have limited capability to respond, giving them the opportunity to be involved helps with their own recovery process (see the mental health chapter for additional thoughts on the community recovery process). Through community involvement, water and sanitation programmes and projects can gain a thorough understanding of the needs, concerns and values of the beneficiaries. The local skills and capacities that exist among the disaster-affected population can also be identified and strengthened. Strong community involvement is critical for projects being sustainable long after external assistance stops.

The Good Professor’s work is being funded in part by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation too (and has been since 2013), which is super cool!  From the Foundation website news section:

“Today, 2.5 billion people practice open defecation or lack adequate toilet facilities  so we are always looking for new ways to ensure that less human waste winds up in the environment, untreated,” said Brian Arbogast, director of the Water, Sanitation & Hygiene team at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “Innovations don’t need to be complicated or expensive in order to be impactful which is why we are so excited about the range of approaches these projects represent.”

GCE grants fund innovative ideas to tackle persistent global health and development problems. Phase II grants are awarded to Phase I winners whose projects have shown progress and are particularly promising. Phase II projects also show a strong alignment to the foundation’s strategic priorities and maintain the innovation and excitement of the great idea that was funded during the first phase.  We also look for projects which have demonstrated the development of partnerships and collaboration that would help move projects toward implementation.

New Phase II grants were awarded to five organizations working to improve water and sanitation conditions in the developing world:

  • University of the West of England, Bristol in the U.K. to develop microbial fuel cells that can be powered by urine. The electricity generated can be used to power sanitation of the waste, and even to charge a cell phone.
  • Beijing Sunnybreeze Technology Inc. in Chinato develop a waterless toilet including an inexpensive mini waste processor.
  • North Carolina State University in the improve and develop a low-cost, portable auger-based technology that can reliably and hygienically empty a wide variety of pit latrines and septic tanks which contain waste with a range of moisture contents.
  • Rice University in the U.S. to extend the capabilities of a solar steam sterilizer into a self-contained human waste-to-fuel converter for the manufacturing of clean, safe biofuel to satisfy demands for energy sources and agricultural fertilizer in the developing world.
  • National University of Mexico in Mexico to develop a digital tool for water survey facilities around the world, so that faster and more reliable water quality analysis is available for efforts to reduce enteric diseases worldwide.
  • The University of Delaware in the U.S. to develop and implement breathable membranes that could not only protect groundwater from contaminants but also accelerate the drying and disinfection of human waste.

urinicity 600

Also, a cool interview from Financial Times with Professor Ieropoulis — it’s quick, read it:

CB: How did the idea for recharging electrical devices using urine come about?

Dr Ieropoulos: As a research group, we have been working with this same fuel cell technology for 12 years, feeding it with different “fuels” and putting it to the test by powering electronic devices. The types of fuel we have been experimenting with are different kinds of organic waste such as domestic waste water, rotten fruits, prawn shells, dead insects and grass clippings.

Urine was just another candidate “fuel”. However, the level of power output improvement was so good that we were able to charge a commercial battery [of a mobile phone] directly, for the first time.

CB: Does the fuel cell have a special name and how does it work?

Dr Ieropoulos: The technology is known as the Microbial Fuel Cell (MFC) and works on bacterial metabolism. Effectively, live microbes, which we collect from the natural environment, inhabit the inside of these devices and break down the organic fuel for their growth and maintenance, which is exactly what they do in nature.

One byproduct of the bacterial respiration comes in the form of electrons, which are transferred on to the electrode surface inside the MFC. These electrons flow through a circuit, which produces the electrical current.

CB: As the Gates Foundation has supported the project, can we expect to see it mainly being applied to developing-world problems, where mains electricity is hard to find?

Dr Ieropoulos: This is the ultimate goal for the work carried out under the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation grant, and not only as a means of electricity generation but also as a technology that can improve sanitation. But in addition, the work carried out under the UK EPSRC grant is primarily focused at developing this technology for the developed world.

CB: Do you know how Bill and Melinda Gates feel about your project?

Dr Ieropoulos: We do indeed, and this is through Dr Carl Hensman, our programme officer from the water, sanitation and hygiene programme. The co-chairs and trustees, Bill and Melinda Gates, are kept regularly informed and feel excited about our project, as they do for all the projects funded under the different programmes of the Gates Foundation.

CB: How might it be applied in the developed world?

Dr Ieropoulos: We consider the MFC to be a platform technology [something that enables products and processes to be developed from it], with numerous applications in different sectors of society.

The electricity is generated because the constituent microbes break down – and therefore treat – the organic waste, hence one area of focus is waste water treatment.

As the energy generated can be used for powering or recharging electronic devices, low-power electronics is another area of application. Biosensing is a third. This is exploiting the immediate response of the micro organisms to the presence of different compounds.

More recently, it has been demonstrated that MFCs can synthesise chemical compounds, while generating electricity. This means that elemental recovery [turning waste products into useful resources again] is an area that is beginning to grow. So, there are several avenues that can be explored in order to implement the technology in the developed world.

CB: Do you see this as a “disruptive” technology? Could it be an idea that will change the way people produce batteries for torches, say, or make domestic electrical appliances?

Dr Ieropoulos: At community level with waste water treatment, we do not necessarily see the MFCs as a disruptive technology at present, but rather as a complementary solution that can be part of a hybrid system. There is still some way to go before it can replace an existing technology such as batteries, but the EcoBot work we have been developing over the years has shown that small robots can be powered directly by MFCs, without any other form of power supply onboard. This is part of our self-sustainable systems work.

CB: Is it satisfying to see what from the outside seems a completely outlandish idea bear fruit?

Dr Ieropoulos: It is exciting, and this is the very essence of scientific research. To think about the difficult or even impossible and push the boundaries of current knowledge to see if it can work.

CB: How would you like to see this development being used in 10 years’ time? Does it have applications for helping counter global warming, for instance?

Dr Ieropoulos: In this timeframe, we would definitely like to see the technology deployed at different scales, in both the developing and developed worlds. There are so many sectors that MFCs can contribute to, either by cutting down energy consumption, increasing the efficiency of waste utilisation or even assisting in the recovery of useful nutrients from organic matter.

This is a technology that turns waste into useful commodities and it would be extremely beneficial to integrate it in existing processes, as it can help cut global warming.

Take a moment too and just view the contributions that Professor Ieropoulis has made to the field:

Hat Tips:

World Health Organization Guide on Emergency Waste Management:

United Nations and Humanitarian Affairs Guide on Emergency Waste Management:


TESLA: The Race to Zero Point Free Energy

Looking for something awesome to watch tonight?  Laura and I are going to watch the documentary Sirius again in the next few days, but this next submission is on the list right after.


For all of you out there that believe like me that we can have free energy in our lifetimes — check this out!  This movie is called TESLA: The Race to Zero Point Free Energy, and it’s fantastic.  Produced in 1997, get ready for some of the science-fiction-est transitions and video effects that 1997 had to offer, but the content of this film is of immense importance.

Cue this up for later tonight, make sure you’ve given YouTube enough time to buffer through the movie, grab the popcorn and settle in for some awesome documentary action.

From Google Videos
Lightworks Video&Audio
Directed by Chris Toussaint

Hosted by Bill Jenkins, formerly of ABC Radio, this comprehensive documentary features physicists and inventors who are challenging orthodox science to bring this non-polluting technology forward despite ridicule and suppression. See actual working prototypes that defy classical physics including phenomenal experiments in anti-gravity and the transmutation of metals.…


Editor’s Note:
You’d be surprised how many times I get an email or a Facebook message about posting information relating to the idea of free energy here on  Most of them are friendly stabs and jabs about how nothing of this sort could ever work, how it defies the fundamental laws of thermodynamics, and that I should be ashamed of myself for promoting this kind of fantasy.  I have only one thing to say to all of the naysayers of free energy, the zero point field, perpetual motion, and electrogravitics in general:  In our world today, where income disparity is at its absolute most disgusting and the banking cartels control now even the price of aluminum cans, would it be such a bad thing if people paid attention to making their own free power instead of wasting their lives watching brain destroying trash like Honey Boo Boo and reruns of Jersey Shore, among other unbelievably high rated and worthless fodder?  

I don’t think so either.  We have to take back our world, and do it now.

Illinois Gives Good Wind – Fourth in the Nation for Wind Power Generation!


I had a chance to drive through some of the great wind fields of Illinois over the last month — Laura and I have ostensibly been vagabonding here in the US since there’s no work.

I put together a quick video on Illinois wind power — check it out, wouldja?  Share it with your friends!  Illinois, a state that sent 4 of its last 7 sitting governors to prison for corruption, is the fourth largest wind producer in the United States!  I guess you go, Illinois still works?

Illinois gives good wind!

…and on Vimeo, in case you like it there better (I have to admit I love their interface…)

Illinois Gives Good Wind! from Jim Hutchison on Vimeo.

Saturday Sustainability News


It’s Saturday again, which means that there are lots of people waking up on either A) the hung-over side of the bed, B) someone else’s side of the bed, or C) the well-rested side of the bed, which is where I woke up this morning!

This morning brings some sustainability news stories, covering solar, wind, geothermal, and tidal power wherever possible.  There’s only one reason why we can’t take ahold of sustainable and renewable energy sources right at the time when we need to develop them the most, and that’s because not enough people are stepping up.  I can’t be the only person who believes that we could all live on a planet that is consuming less power than we can generate, and where there’s enough of everything for everybody…

…or can I?


Sustainability News

  1. The Ivanpah Solar project is over 90% complete, nearing a total of 173,500 heliostats!

  2. First Solar has 400 million in cash from their most recent stock offering…  How will they spend it?

  3. University of Florida added some solar panels to University apartment carports.  Brilliant move, UF!

  4. German community-owned solar arrays!

  5. Flattening peak and base energy prices – Analysis

  6. Conergy says Australian solar markets will grow 20% a year until 2015

  7. Goldman Sachs plans to invest in an offshore wind farm in Japan

  8. US solar market grew 76% in 2012…!!!

  9. The US leads Clean Energy mergers and acquisitions (M&A’s), Solar stays in the lead

  10. Italy reaches clean energy budget cap, stops offering tariffs on new clean energy installs

  11. Geothermal energy starts the list of US Army’s nearly ready power purchasing agreement binge

  12. Renewable energy investments focus on developing nations

  13. Solar tracking systems gain some public footing

  14. Are solar panels as inexpensive as paint nowadays?

  15. California needs 3 BILLION to finish its Energy Storage Plan

  16. New ideas for a power plant — that lives at the bottom of the ocean

  17. Ladies and Gentlemen, the first artificial photosynthesis nanosystem

  18. Solar in California breaks the 2 Gigawatt output mark!

  19. Making cheaper and more flexible silicon crystalline wafers for Solar

  20. The coming US distributed solar boom

  21. Big Coal in India takes a nibble of Solar investment

  22. Solar plane makers shows what it takes to build a solar airplane

  23. MECASOLAR from Spain leads a huge EU research and development project into Solar

  24. A strategic agreement has been met to create deployable solar panels

  25. Comcast’s “Connected Home” has smart light bulbs, web-programmable thermostats

Have an awesome sunny Saturday, everyone!

Smart Power Metering in Europe – Changes, Challenges, Opportunities


I saw this great video on CleanTechnica about Smart Power Metering in Europe — the lecture, which is about 30 minutes or so, is about some of the potential policy changes, regulation challenges, and business opportunities that this idea could set forth in Europe with power suppliers.  This was all set forth over something that actually happened this last November 2012 – Deutsche Telekom and a technology company called Itron signed a deal to start supplying European customers with Smart Metering.  From the press release at Business Wire:

LIBERTY LAKE, Wash.–()–Itron, Inc. (NASDAQ:ITRI), a global technology company that helps utilities measure, manage, and analyze energy and water, and Deutsche Telekom, a world leading integrated telecommunications company, announced today that they have signed an agreement to collaborate on delivering smart metering solutions to target markets in Europe. This agreement brings two leading companies together in the smart grid and smart metering space to combine their technology expertise to better serve the utility industry.

“This collaboration will give our customers more options and will deliver real business benefits as they roll-out smart meter systems.”

Under this agreement, the two companies will utilize Itron’s innovative smart meter solutions, Deutsche Telekom’s M2M capabilities, Information and Communication Technology solutions and Intelligent Networks Energy solution offering to bring an even more comprehensive solution and service offering to European markets. This coupled with the strength of two large and experienced companies combining efforts to create more options for customers will result in tremendous opportunities for utilities.

“Working with a world-class organization like Deutsche Telekom is a true pleasure,” said Remy Brill, Itron vice president and managing director, EMEA Energy. “This collaboration will give our customers more options and will deliver real business benefits as they roll-out smart meter systems.”

Check this out, this is a great video to watch over lunch or a coffee — lots of great discussion points!  This comes from Zachary Shahan, who has probably THE BEST research I’ve seen on Renewable Energy.  PLEASE check it out if this is something you want to know about, you’ll be very informed afterwards.

Acting Green vs. Buying Green [Infographic]

I saw this great infographic over at Inhabitat, from a cool website called eLocal — the idea behind it is the idea of the difference between buying green and acting green.  It’s pretty clever, check it out!

After all of this time, I still kinda cringe that we call it “green.”  I feel like the reality of the situation should be enough to force people to think with a little bit more earthen responsibility, as “green” really refers to sustainability.  perhaps I’m a wee bit pessimistic about the whole thing, but the real idea behind branding the idea of sustainability as being “green” is to save the Earth.  She needs saving, folks.

There Has Never Been a Better Time to Stop Using Non-Renewables, Ever

This is going to seem like a ramble, and I’m okay with that, but I think that something needs to be said. It’s time that we stop depending on the Middle East and despotic regimes like Libya for the oil we use to light our world. While we’re at it, we should also convert from using coal and natural gas to forms of energy that we’re not going to run out of to forms of energy that are essentially good forever. I mean, really – when solar power runs out, we’ve bigger problems to worry about then, don’t we.

Doesn’t this seem like such a no-brainer? Switching from a fuel that is going to run out to a fuel that will never run out?

In my perfect Utopian world that obviously only exists in my head, we harness solar fully in just three states, wind in just two states, tidal and wave on the coasts, and provide the necessary gear for people to very easily use solar and wind at home. I’m a lighting designer, and I imagine a world where every touring production travels with a truck that has a solar and battery setup to self-sustain the show’s power needs. Wouldn’t that be just awesome and amazing?

Those kind of systems exist now. Yep, that’s no bull.

You know what the really sick and creepy thing about all of this energy generation business is? We actually CAN do exactly what exists in my head. We have the technology, desire, and ability to turn our power from coal and oil to wind, solar, geothermal, and tidal, among other forms. But, as we live in a country (and on a planet) that is so addicted to non-renewables like oil and coal, a change like this can only come if we demand it. All of us. Together.

When a place like Libya undergoes a revolt like is experiencing now, everything goes to sh*t around the world. Gas prices skyrocket. Everything costs more because the price of oil goes nuts. I just heard on NPR a few days that a barrel of oil just hit $100 bucks on the market. It’s not expected to get much cheaper any time soon, either. How can we continue to keep doing this, folks? It’s not just our gas that’s going to continue to climb honed and higher, it’s going to be everything in our lives – electricity bills, heating and cooling costs, light and lighting, food, clothing, all of it.

Something that we cannot overlook now is the danger of nuclear power.  Our brothers and sisters in Japan are experiencing the repercussions of the dangers of nuclear power for light after this last unprecedented earthquake and subsequent tsunami.  Have you been watching the news about the fires happening at the Fukushima Daiishi and Daini plants outside Tokyo right now?  Wider protection zones are being requested and considered by high ranking officials around the nuclear power plants in Tokyo, we’re haring news about meltdowns, radioactive fallout, and radiation sickness dangers.  It’s not a secret that nuclear power plants are powerful – but if you compare the bi-products and danger considerations versus those for renewable energy sources like solar, wind, geothermal, tidal, and wave, is the danger really that worth it?

When the earthquake and tsunami first hit, the stock market was all a buzz about how solar stocks would triumph in this moment of our time.  Now the same people are saying that oil, coal, and gas are making big leaps and bounds because of the earthquake.  How screwed up is it that people spend more time trying to profit from a disaster like the one that just happened and is growing ever stronger and worse, day by day?  Why aren’t we trying to get solar and wind power in there now to help people out?

Think of the amount of energy needed to harvest pretty much every single non-renewable – oil, coal, natural gas, nuclear fuel – each of these methods requires several multiples of the energy actually gained just to make it in the first place.  Renewable energy sources require nearly no extra energy (or carbon footprint).  Why is this so hard for everyone to understand?

We cannot afford to rely on these non-renewables for our light any longer. We just cannot afford to be petroleum slaves anymore.  Our technological development in light is moving in the wrong direction when we base it on what coal, oil, and nuclear power are dictating.

There are so many advancements in solar technology happening right now, as well as with wind, geothermal, tidal, and wave power generation that it is staggering to think we’re not completely utilizing these sustainable sources of power. We are destroying our home with the mining of oil, coal, and natural gas.  Fracking, for example (fracture drilling for you Battlestar Galactica fans), has been proven to cause earthquakes.  Spent nuclear fuel (and live nuclear fuel for that matter) is so dangerous to humans that it must be buried deep underground to keep it away from us.  We have got to knock this stuff off and get involved in having a home that will be around for a long time. At our current rate, we are absolutely screwed.

Over the last few years as politicians have been lobbied by the CFL and LED manufacturers, we as lighting designers have all gotten our underwear in a bunch over being told we can’t use incandescents.  What sucks about that is that yes, it would be awesome to have a replacement for incandescent sources so that our light sources don’t draw a lot of power.  Well, my frank opinion is that if we were able to generate new electricity nearly free of cost, who cares what light sources we use?  Should we keep developing?  Of course.  Should we keep looking for an incandescent replacement?  Of course we should.  We should also work on improving our current power grid so that we have better distribution of power – it would stun your mind how many places across the country (and world for that matter) are operating on an industry-birth set of infrastructure that is as old as the industry is itself.  How much sense does that make?

Of course, what do I know – I only spend 8-12 hours a day looking at the advancement of light in our society.  I know we can do better, we just have to do it.  I want the best for us!  Most of all, I want us to start thinking sustainably – we’re not gonna make it if we don’t.  That is, of course, just my educated opinion.  But again, what do I know?

Burning in the Sun

Have you seen trailers for this movie Burning in the Sun? Below is not a trailer, it’s an in-depth video about the film’s subject, Daniel Dembélé. You have got to check it out.

From Al Jazeera:

Twenty-six-year-old Daniel Dembélé is equal parts West African and European, and looking to make his mark on the world.

Seizing the moment at a crossroads in his life, Daniel decides to return to his homeland in Mali and start a local business building solar panels – the first of its kind in the sun-drenched nation.

Daniel’s goal is to electrify the households of rural communities – 99 per cent of which live without power.

Burning in the Sun tells the story of Daniel’s journey growing the budding idea into a viable company, and its impact on Daniel’s first customers in the tiny village of Banko.

Taking controversial stances on climate change, poverty and African self-sufficiency, the film explores what it means to grow up as a man, and what it takes to prosper as a nation.

This is something that inspired me this morning to drive 2011’s possibilities of solar, wind, geothermal, and wave power as hard as I can. I’m tired of hearing stories about how gas is going up higher than five or six bucks a gallon soon, and how companies like BP are skirting around the legal system like it was a flea market in which the only penalty is paying too much.

Let’s kick ass in 2011 to make up for 2010’s shortcomings!

Jax’s Link-O-Rama: Mercy Street Edition

I’ve been laid up with a back injury (yup: incurred in the theatre!) for the past few days and am not getting out much.  And so this is the Mercy Street edition, because that’s what happens to be on Pandora right now.

Extremely cool rehearsal photos are from Mr. Gabriel’s website.