An iron grip could help pee to produce electricity
A catalyst containing nickel and iron can degrade the main waste product from urine to generate electricity and harmless by-products 1 . The compound urea, which mammals excrete in their urine, is energy-rich. In theory, it could be used to produce a stream of electrons — and so an electric current — as it is broken down into nitrogen and carbon dioxide. But harnessing this power is tricky because as each urea molecule degrades, it generates six electrons that are difficult to round up, severely reducing the amount of electricity that can be harvested. Ping Chen at Anhui University in Hefei, China, and colleagues prepared a catalyst containing nickel and iron atoms, which work together to corral urea’s electrons. First, each of the catalyst’s nickel atoms links with a urea molecule’s oxygen atom. The nickel facilitates the urea’s transformation into CO 2 and ammonia. Then, each of the catalyst’s iron atoms grabs hold of two ammonia molecules, combining them to form nitrogen gas and taking their electrons to generate an electrical current. The researchers hope that their catalyst could help to turn urine into a useful energy source. .