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Phone out of juice? Scientists want to recharge it with urine

It's a liquid gold rush! Scientists find yet another way to power our smartphones (and other devices) with pee.

The 21st century: When humankind realized that urine wasn't waste after all. (Click to enlarge.)
UWE Bristol

Gotta pee? In the future, you might think twice before you flush that valuable power source down an ordinary drain. Scientists at Bristol Robotics Laboratory in the U.K. figured out a new way to make pee pee powerful enough to charge a smartphone.

How does it work? The magic occurs after urine (and other organic matter) passes through a series of microbial fuel cells, which contain tiny microbes that consume and metabolize the liquid into small amounts of energy. The Bristol-based scientists made a system that transfers the collected energy into a capacitor, and in this case, that pee power ended up giving a small charge directly to a Samsung smartphone.

"So far, the microbial fuel power stack that we have developed generates enough power to enable SMS messaging, Web browsing and to make a brief phone call," said Ioannis Ieropoulos from the University of the West of England, which participated in the research along with the University of Bristol.

Despite the low-level energy output, the concept works and only has room to grow. One potential use could be the installation of microbial fuel cells into public restrooms, which could draw power from urine and deliver electricity to lighting, smartphone chargers, showers, and so forth.

"We are currently bidding for funding to work alongside partners in the U.S. and South Africa to develop a smart toilet," Ieropoulos said. Watch this space."

If you're looking to tap the power of your pee now, check out the Powertrekk fuel cell charger. The device separates hydrogen from water (and other liquids -- wink) and uses that as fuel to charge a smartphone.