Wednesday, September 1, 2010

A powerful solution to the plastic jug?

In a Land Line magazine column I wrote in November 2005, I remarked on efforts to create a small urine-powered battery. In that column, my friend and ace gearjammer Rufus Sideswipe was quoted as follows:

That is thinking way too small, says Rufus. “This battery idea could solve two of trucking’s most persistent problems – idling and piddling into those infamous jugs (or onto parking lots, the truck next to you, etc.). Engineer these batteries up so they can run a heat-air unit, and your sleeper TV, fridge, coffeepot and microwave. When you gotta go, you can also juice up your batteries.”

By golly, it seems the indefatigable scientific establishment has come through, with a fuel cell fueled by pee.

Fuel cells generate electricity and there’s been buzz about their future for years, ever since NASA began using them in its manned spacecraft. They’re touted as clean energy, because they don’t emit nasty particulates or gases.

Not only does this device use urine as a fuel, but its “emissions” are nitrogen and CO2. (The latter might be problematic for the EPA, which someday soon is going to require all mammals like us either to wear noseplugs that capture the CO2 we breathe out for use in colas, or else stop breathing altogether.)

Technically, it’s urea – the same basic stuff used in SCR engines to lower emissions – that does the work. But human urine is mostly urea, so it works just dandy, too.

The report left out one detail that would be important to truckers: How often does the fuel cell need to be refueled? One would hope pretty often; otherwise, better not get a thermos of java to go.

Meanwhile, Rufus is going to see if he can turn his idea into a liquid asset.