Glastonbury Festival harnesses the power of pee

A urinal that turns urine into electricity and with the ultimate aim of bringing an alternative power source to refugee camps is to be trialled at Glastonbury Festival for a second year running next weekend (22-26 June).

Glastonbury Festival harnesses the power of peeThe unit has been designed by researchers at the University of the West of England (UWE) in Bristol and workers from Oxfam and Dunster House shelter manufacturers for use in refugee camps and temporary housing. It was first launched at UWE student’s union in March 2015.

The ‘Pee Power’ urinal, which uses urine to generate electricity via microbial fuel cells (MFC), produces enough electricity to light up the cubicle interior. 

After the first trials last year, the MFCs have now been made smaller and more powerful, so there is now the potential for the technology to be developed to light the unit’s exterior, meaning urine-powered street lighting may be available in the future.

This year’s unit, which will be situated inside the famous stone circle at the festival, is the size planned for use in refugee camps, twice as big as last year’s unit, and is capable of accommodating up to 25 people at once.

The urinal has been specifically designed to continuously generate electricity from waste without the use of the grid or fossil fuels and so its developers say it is suitable for use in any environment.

Lighting in refugee camps and poor ‘slum’ areas is an important issue, says Andy Bastable, Water Sanitation Manager for Oxfam. In particular, lighting is vital in keeping women safe at night. The technology could also be used to charge mobile phones, giving Oxfam the potential to develop charging centres that could help refugee camps where families have been split up.

At the festival, MFC demonstration units will be present next to the urinal so the public can interact with and learn about the technology. UWE researchers and student ambassadors will be present to explain the science behind the urinal. In addition to Pee Power, UWE will take part in a series of public engagement, research and volunteering opportunities at this year’s festival.  

Glastonbury organisers have said it is ‘vital that festival goers do not pee on the land as it pollutes the river that runs through the site and harms fish and other wildlife’, so the unit will also contribute to the much-needed toilet facilities at the event.

Last month, the festival was fined £31,000 after approximately 20,000 gallons of untreated human waste escaped from a temporary storage tank and polluted a nearby river, wiping out the local trout population.

‘From Piss to Pilsner’

Music festivals have proven to be fertile ground for urine-based experiments recently. At last year’s Roskilde festival in Denmark, revellers were encouraged to use toilets that collect urine for a beer-manufacturing project.

From Piss to Pilsner’ sought to collect 25,000 litres of waste liquid from over 100,000 willing participants to fertilise barley crops that were then made into pilsner lager. The beer, backed by the Danish Agriculture and Food Council (DAFC), is expected to be on sale at the 2017 festival.

‘Generating energy for free’

Professor Ioannis Ieropoulos, Director of the Bristol BioEnergy Centre, Bristol Robotics Laboratory, at UWE Bristol, said: “The festival presents us with the opportunity to trial the technology, along the lines of its robustness and cleaning capability, in terms of the sheer numbers of people and therefore the amount of urine.

“Our ethos of reusing free resources, in this case urine, generating energy for free and also cleaning the urine so that it is suitable for agricultural use resonates with the Glastonbury Festival organisers who have made us feel very welcome.”

Chris Murphy, Director of Dunster House, said: “As a company that is constantly moving forward and searching for new solutions, we are really excited that we can take part in this project. Our mission is to help resolve as many humanitarian issues as possible and we truly believe that our products can make a difference, especially in developing countries.”

More information about waste management at Glastonbury Festival is available in Resource’s feature article.

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