British scientists claim to have discovered a way to use human urine to power mobile phones.

Researchers at the University of Bristol and Bristol Robotic Laboratory are experts at harnessing power from unusual sources and say they have created a fuel cell that uses bacteria to break down the urine to generate electricity.

Dr Adam Best is a senior research scientist at CSIRO's Material Science Engineering Unit and is familiar with the process.

"The process simply works by having the urine and water mixing together in a similar sort of structure as you would have a normal fuel cell," he said.

"So whereby you're applying the urine to one side or the negative side of the cell, and water on the positive side of the cell.

"The reaction that occurs at the interface between the urine solution and the water actually creates the voltage and the power and the energy to actually drive the system."

However, Dr Best says it is not an efficient method of generating power.

"Because of where the bacteria are, you need to be able to provide as much nutrients as possible for the bacteria to react them, in order to produce the voltage that you require," he said.

"So you need to find a way that you can constantly keep bringing new nutrients that the bacteria can consume.

"More importantly they need to be able consume it at a rate that you can actually match to actually the amount of power that you need to deliver to that device or other type of system."

Dr Best says research looking at the potential of urine and other human waste as a power source is not a new concept.

However, he says what is new, is the researchers' ambitious quest to discover the magic in our urine that will power our mobile phones - and it could prove to be a breakthrough.

"I think they've made a very, very big stretch to go with a mobile phone, however that would be where the ingenious engineering would come into the story," he said.

"If you could package it up in such a way then I think you'd have a pretty winning, you may have, a winning product.

"If you can actually get the bacteria to react, fuel the urine as quick as possible to produce the amount of energy needed to, say, run an iPhone. Which is not an insubstantial amount of energy."

While it may be able to be done, it remains uncertain whether consumers would be excited by potential.

"If this could provide you with that longer battery life, then, I think most people would be for it," he said.


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