Fuel cells, devices that react hydrogen with oxygen to produce water, using the electricity generated by the redox reaction to power a motor, need platinum catalysts to produce energy, which makes them extremely expensive. Scientists have been looking for alternatives to replace the transition metal with a cheaper option, such as carbon, but producing carbon nanostructures can be quite expensive too.
Researchers in South Korea have found a clever way to extract carbon from dried urine—and it can be used instead of platinum or synthetic carbon.
The scientists collected urine samples from healthy individuals and heated them to 700 to 1,000 degrees Celsius for six hours. The carbonised urine had other elements that made it highly porous, which turned out to be ideal for fuel cell catalysts, explains Carl Engelking over at Discover.
In a study published in Nature, the researchers reported that their carbonised urine is an excellent conductor of electricity and its byproduct, gasified salts solidified that cling to the furnace wall after cooling, can be used as de-icing agents.
If 400 milligrams of urine carbon can be extracted from 1 litre of urine and a single person can generate up to 5.6 grams (0.2 ounces), scientists may have found an endless supply of energy.