According to Korean researchers, carbon atoms recovered from human urine have the right kind of properties to replace expensive catalysts in fuel cell applications to achieve this. “We could use urine to create highly porous carbon containing heteroatoms such as N, S, Si, and P (nitrogen, sulphur, silicon and phosphorus) from human urine waste as a single precursor for carbon and multiple heteroatoms,” explained lead study author Jong-Sung Yu from Korea University. Fuel-cell technology converts chemical energy into electricity by reacting hydrogen and oxygen.These fuel cells work by delivering hydrogen gas to a negatively charged anode on one side of the fuel cell while oxygen is channeled to a positively charged cathode on the other side.
At the anode, a catalyst – usually platinum – knocks the hydrogen atoms’ electrons off, leaving positively charged hydrogen ions and free electrons. According to Korean scientists, this would be done by replacing expensive platinum used in current fuel cells with carbon naturally found in human waste. “There are other environmental benefits too that come with treating urine as a commodity rather than a waste product,” Jong-Sung Yu added. Fewer pollutants, such as leftover drugs, from urine would reach water bodies and the carbon recovered from urine could also be used in battery applications, he said in a paper published in the journal Nature.