I’ll spare you the video, but imagine, if you will, a He-Man video with the “power of Grayskull” line and someone singing, “The Power of PEEEE!” That’s what has been going through my mind since earlier today, in my browsing around, two posts showed up side by side about new emerging technology applications of urine. Yes, really. That caught my eye, so I took a quick look to see if there were other recent emerging tech uses for urine. Well, lah-dee-dah, so there are. Since the utilitarian nature of urine might surprise a few folk, I thought I’d collect a few examples of the exciting things being done with this versatile and useful body fluid. Please note, some of the coolest ones are listed at the end of the article because they didn’t fit in a nice tidy category.
Several examples related to the ability to use urine in creating a source of electricity or power. Houses, cars, phones, and even cities are being listed as potential beneficiaries of urine power.
Pee Power: Could Urine Replace Gas, Power Your Home? http://archive.longislandpress.com/2011/03/09/pee-power-could-urine-replace-gas-power-your-home/
Pee power could fuel hydrogen cars http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2011/mar/09/pee-power-fuel-hydrogen-urine
Same tech as above, just used in a different place.
African girls’ pee-powered generator raises questions http://www.nbcnews.com/technology/african-girls-pee-powered-generator-raises-questions-1C6956099
Being reported on around the world, part of the excitement of this generator is that the technology was developed by teen-age girls. One liter of urine provides 6 hours of power (at an unspecified wattage).
Pee Powered Batteries On Sale in Japan http://www.weirdasianews.com/2007/09/09/pee-powered-batteries-on-sale-in-japan/
Alright, urine-powered batteries aren’t exactly cutting edge. This article is from 2007. It was reported at Phys.org on 2005. But did you know you can make one yourself? And that it is so simple children can make them? Here’s more info, if you want to explore this idea a little more deeply.
Scientists Claim Urine Could Charge Mobile Phones http://www.gadgetscrine.com/2013/07/call-of-nature-mobile-phone-charged.html
This is one of the new pieces that came out this week. Right now, there is an enormous number of news articles coming out about this. The original research was published in January in the International Journal of Hydrogen Energy. It just took this long to percolate out to the public.
Greening Cities Through the Power of Public Urination http://www.theatlanticcities.com/technology/2012/10/greening-cities-through-power-public-urination/3695/
With the clever name of PPlanters (pronounce the first letter separately), this Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign is getting a lot of attention for the idea of watering plants and generating power through allowing people to urinate in public spaces. In their words:
“PPlanter is a rapidly deployable, reconfigurable public urinal and sink that uses modular biofilters to treat urine and wastewater. A network of sensors for automated monitoring and a responsive web application enable public feedback and participation in the design of future iterations.”
Something about this reminds me of the brilliant Broadway musical Urinetown.
The next grouping of cool things to do with urine clusters around biochips and lab-on-a-chip technologies. As you might guess, many of these have to do with healthcare in some fashion. From the obvious (let’s use lab-on-a-chip technology to diagnose urologic disorders) to the less obvious (pregnancy, ovarian cancer, and baby monitoring), here are some proposed uses of urine with chips. Oh, by the way, some of the chips are in mighty strange places.
A Dirty Diaper Full of Data: http://newsfeed.time.com/2013/07/16/smart-diapers-could-help-parents-monitor-babys-health/
This actually is not a chip per se, but a QR coded label with chemically sensitive squares of dye that change color. Here’s the description of how it works from the Times article:
“Pixie Scientific, the company behind the smart diaper, spent a year developing the smart diaper, which uses a QR code (or label) to track and determine the health of an infant through urine analysis. The label is comprised of colorful squares, which deepen in color depending on their interaction with protein, water or bacteria in the diaper.”
Pixie Scientific Smart Diaper crowdfunding campaign: http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/pixie-scientific-smart-diapers
Finally, a Huggies Device that Lets Babies Tweet When They Pee: http://techland.time.com/2013/05/10/finally-a-huggies-device-that-lets-babies-tweet-when-they-pee/
What do they call this? You had to ask. Of course, it is the Tweet-Pee.
Diagnosis of STDs Could Be As Quick As Peeing On A Chip And Putting It In Your Phone: http://www.popsci.com/technology/article/2010-11/your-phone-could-one-day-diagnose-stds-bodily-fluids
Integration of cell phone imaging with microchip ELISA to detect ovarian cancer HE4 biomarker in urine at the point-of-care http://pubs.rsc.org/en/Content/ArticleLanding/2011/LC/c1lc20479c
Another example utilizing smartphones. In their words:
“Integration of a mobile application with a cell phone enabled immediate processing of microchip ELISA results, which eliminated the need for a bulky, expensive spectrophotometer.”
An Easier Test for TB: A study suggests that an electronic nose could sniff out tuberculosis in a urine sample. http://www.technologyreview.com/news/424968/an-easier-test-for-tb/
Lab-on-a-Chip Made of Paper: Paper-based microfluidic devices could yield cheap, disposable diagnostic tests, By Kristina Grifantini on May 14, 2008. http://www.technologyreview.com/news/410126/lab-on-a-chip-made-of-paper/
In their words:
“While larger paper tests (like those for pregnancy) are common, shrinking the paper and minimizing the quantity of the required chemical reagents reduces manufacturing costs. The ability to direct the sample to particular regions of the paper enables the simultaneous performance of several tests, to look for multiple symptoms of a condition, like kidney failure or infectious disease, says Whitesides. And reducing sample size is a particular advantage in developing countries, where noninvasively gathering small amounts of fluids avoids the need for syringes, which can be hard to clean and dispose of. A pinprick of blood or drop of urine soaked up at the edge of the Whitesides device moves naturally through the paper, in much the way that wine will spread through a paper napkin.”
Khae Hawn Kim. Lab-on-a-chip for Urology. Int Neurourol J. 2013 Mar;17(1):1-1. http://dx.doi.org/10.5213/inj.2013.17.1.1
“This leads to the speculation that we would achieve great things if we make an effort to understand the current state-of-the-art system and then to apply it to the diagnosis of urologic diseases. Thus, it will be established as a novel innovative technology. Keeping pace with the current trends, the review article of this issue will provide a high-level understanding of micro- and nanotechnologies, novel research areas that are making a rapid progress.”
This was in reference to a new article in the same issue describing attempts to create a lab-on-a-chip device for “application to urodynamic studies in molecular level.”
TED 2013: Uchek app tests urine for medical issues http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-21586082
So what about something that can scan for MANY possible conditions all at once? That’s the idea of the uChek, to basically make a full fledged urine lab that can be used with your smartphone or mobile device.
This is the ‘lagniappe’ section, with the ideas that don’t quite fit together, but which didn’t fit in either electrical generation or biochips. Here we stretch from the modern interpretation of the old-fashioned outhouse all the way into outerspace, with a side tour inside the brain.
Brain Cells Made From Pee: http://www.livescience.com/25407-brain-cells-made-from-pee.html
I bet you never imagined that one.
In their words:
“When a person urinates, skin shells are routinely shed from the lining in the kidney, and it’s these cells that the researchers reprogrammed into stem cells, which can turn into any type of cell in the body.”
More information on this is available from Nature News,
NASA improves urine-drinking technology: http://www.smartplanet.com/blog/bulletin/nasa-improves-urine-drinking-technology/12841
NASA astronauts have been drinking purified urine since I was a child. That’s nothing new. MIT Tech Review had a fun overview of the technology a few years back, entitled, “Urine: The Astronaut’s Sports Drink.” What’s exciting about these new developments is both that they are making the tech vastly more efficient for the planned trip to Mars that’s coming up, as well as that they are using it right now here on Earth to help reduce fresh water use and promote green and sustainable building design.
In their words:
“At NASA’s Sustainability Base, what it calls “one of the greenest buildings in the federal government,” a forward-osmosis wastewater recycling system was installed at the base and is expected to help the building reduce it’s water use by 90 percent.”
Dry urine diversion toilet: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pYJE2X7s3rs
If you’re thinking green and sustainable, then you might already know about this last application: Urine-Diverting Dry Toilets (UDDTs). The idea is again to recycle waste products into usable and useful materials, but to do so without using water. The waste solids cane be used as compost or fertilizer, or could be made into biobricks, which is what NASA is planning to do on Mars. Here is a technology overview of what’s involved, the pros and cons. Here is a wonderful slide deck showing examples of UDDTs in many countries around the globe and explaining part of how to make your own if you wish.