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Continental Innovators: Urine Powered Generator

In Life by Continental StaffLeave a Comment

Innovation is (almost) as important to us as our clients. To show our appreciation for amazing innovators, we like to showcase those who inspire us to think outside the box and keep aiming higher. This edition: Duro-Aina Adebola, Akindele Abiola, Faleke Oluwatoyin, and Bello Eniola.

Who are they?

Our innovators this time defy stereotypes and expectations. They are four teenage girls from Lagos, Nigeria who were motivated by tragedy to develop a unique invention that made headlines across the world.

Despite being the largest economy in Africa, infrastructure in Nigeria falls well short of Western standards. Access to power is far from ubiquitous, and even those lucky enough to be on the grid suffer from frequent blackouts. All in all only about half of Nigerians have access to electricity.  Compact generators are used frequently but with dangerous and sometimes deadly consequences.

In 2012, a family of nine died from carbon monoxide poisoning resulting from operating a gas powered generator in a confined area. This tragedy, and many more like it, struck Duro-Aina Adebola hard and inspired her to look for a safer alternative.

urine powered generator

In an interview with girleffect.org, Adebola said “I was sad about how people died while trying to provide electricity for themselves, trying to make their living better.” Driven by this, Adebola made it her mission to try and prevent further tragedies. She recruited Akindele Abiola, Faleke Oluwatoyin, and Bello Eniola from her secondary school. Together the girls decided to tackle two of the developing country’s major issues; access to safe electricity and waste management.

For centuries alchemists in Europe had sought the philosopher’s stone, a mythical substance capable of turning base metals into gold. Adebola and her team went with a different route, turning a gold coloured substance – urine – into electricity.

How does it work?

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The girls urine powered generator first filters the hydrogen from the urine using an electrolytic cell. From here the hydrogen is purified using a water filter and stored in a gas cylinder. From the cylinder the hydrogen is forced into another chamber containing liquid borax – a common mineral used in detergent – which sucks any remaining moisture from the hydrogen. Finally the hydrogen is forced into a generator. The urine powered generator does not produce any of the deadly noxious emissions – like carbon monoxide – which make gas generators so deadly. One single liter of urine can provide 6 hours of electricity. The girls used one-way valves to mitigate the risk of hydrogen escaping, but nevertheless the gas does have a major downside – it is highly explosive.

Using hydrogen as a fuel source for creating electricity isn’t new, nor is the idea of using a urine powered generator sources of electricity. But what the girls proved is that it can be done cheaply, and on a small scale ideal for use in the developing world. Urine powered generators, if they catch on, could prevent deaths from carbon monoxide, save poor families money and lead to far more efficient means of waste management in developing countries.

Engineering achievements aside, Adebola, Abiola, Oluwatoyin, and Eniola show just how much unlocked potential resides in developing countries and exemplify why the world must harness this potential through education and female empowerment. Duro-Aina Adebola, Akindele Abiola, Faleke Oluwatoyin, and Bello Eniola are all true innovators.

All photos via makerfaireafrica.com “A fellowship of creators who believe making is the most authentic form of manufacturing, and manufacturing is what forges a vigorous middle class.” 

Past Continental Innovators have included Elon Musk and Alfredo Moser.

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