RESEARCH & DEVT: Four Nigerian students generate electricity from urine

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By Ebele Orakpo

The whole fun of living is trying to make something better – Charles Kettering, American inventor  and social philosopher.

Nothing is really a waste in the real sense of the word. Almost anything one can think of is reusable. Everything has some value one way or the other. This was what four teenage secondary school girls in Lagos set out to prove.

Disturbed by the incessant deaths of Nigerians, most of the time, an entire family, from carbon monoxide poisoning from fossil-fuel generator, the yo-yo movement of petroleum products prices, environmental degradation and the recent fuel subsidy scam, four Senior Secondary School II students of Doregos Private Academy, Ipaja, Lagos, decided to find solution to the problem. In a chat with Vanguard Learning, the girls – Duro-Aina Adebola, Bello Eniola, Akindele Abiola and Faleke Oluwatoyin, shed some some light on the project and what they hope to achieve. Excerpts:

An idea is born:
Said Duro-Aina Adebola, leader of the group; “I read on the internet that a family of five died of carbon monoxide poisoning so I asked myself what could be done to reduce these incessant deaths from carbon monoxide poisoning?

From left; Faleke Oluwatoyin, Duro-Aina Adebola, Akindele Abiola and Bello Eniola

From left; Faleke Oluwatoyin, Duro-Aina Adebola, Akindele Abiola and Bello Eniola

“We were always encouraged to bring up ideas to help solve human problems so one day, we were in the Guest Room of our school; we thought of what could be done to solve this problem. We thought of what we could use to power the generator instead of using the conventional fuel, something that can replace conventional fuels and that will not release any obnoxious substance like carbon monoxide into the environment; something that will also be cheap for Nigerians. You know that when the issue of fuel subsidy removal came up, there was hike in prices of petroleum products,” she said.

‘A problem well stated is a problem half solved,’ according to Charles Kettering, so having identified the problem, the girls moved on to seek solution.

“We started looking at various materials. We looked at water but we felt that the amount of voltage it will take to break the water molecule is large and we wanted something small so we can have a larger output. We decided to look at waste products because Nigerians always opt for something they won’t have to spend their money on. So we started looking at different materials, one of which was urine. We were looking for something that is liquid, something that has hydrogen molecules in it. We also observed that the amount of voltage it takes to break a urine molecule is less than the amount it takes to break the hydrogen molecule in water. So we opted for urine since we have a higher output,” she said.

The generator:
“The generator is a conventional fuel-based generator. It combusts slower than the hydrogen gas so we had to retard the ignition of the generator. We actually retarded the back-timing on the generator by 11 degrees.”

Components:
“We have an electrolytic cell, water filter, an empty gas can, borax and our retarded generator.  The electrolytic cell is an old battery cell we got from the junk yard; we removed the contents of the cell and then used perforated stainless steel mesh as the electrodes so urine is placed in the electrolytic cell, where it is electrolysed, releasing hydrogen-oxygen gas mixture. This mixture then goes into the water filter. The water filter is to remove any impurities that might have come in with the gas and then it goes into an empty gas cylinder which serves as the gas storage.

“The gas cylinder pushes hydrogen into a cylinder of liquid borax, which is used to remove the moisture from the hydrogen gas. Borax serves as a drying agent and this is because we do not want lots of moisture going into the generator. Also, borax helps to remove any other impurities that might have come in with the gas. The purified hydrogen gas is then pushed into the generator,” she explained.

Asked how much it will cost to acquire a unit, she said; “It’s something we are still working on because this is a prototype which cost us about N4,000 apart from the generator. We are working on improving this so it can just be our own generator, a Nigeria-made generator that works based on urine.

Advantages: For this generator, the exhaust gas is the water vapour. It does not emit carbon monoxide like the normal fuel-based generator so this ensures clean environment for Nigerians. Again, one litre of urine can give you six hours of electricity.

Appeal:
“We are appealing to people to build up on what we have done. They should take up the idea and help us to improve on it so that it can be something that can be in every Nigerian home because this was not made to be lying around; it was made to be used by Nigerians. All we need is support so we can take it to the next level. We want a situation where every home can have this. We also want to make it compact so you don’t have to have different compartments, they can all be in a single unit that can just be attached to a generator.”

Other projects:
The students are currently working on other projects like bomb detecting radar, motor bike safety device and also paper from maize straw (agricultural waste), to save our trees and environment.

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