Science of pee

I stole this fromThings I learnt on Radio4 today after listening to the radio programme.

The sound of presenters Sally Magnusson weeing very loudly in an echoey toilet got us right in the mood to discuss the powers of urine. By the sound of it, once research on urine fuel cells is complete, Sally could power a small town all by herself.

It’s not actually urine that we’re interested in, it’s the urea within urine. Urea is made from ammonia generated during protein metabolism. It is converted into urea in the liver so the body can then excrete it, after further filtering by the kidneys. Don’t let Sally’s prolific peeing put you off urine, because wee comes into the world perfectly filtered, sterile and unstinky. The pong only starts once it comes into contact with micro organisms in the air, in the toilet bowl, in the carpet (if you miss). These micro organisms convert the urea back to toxic ammonia which stinks. So stop being so squeamish about wee wee, because as you may have heard our natural resources are depleting, and when they do, wee might have the answer.

In laboratories somewhere in Scotland, toilets have become wasteful relics. Scientists are looking into Carbamide Power Systems also known as Youtricity. These are fuel cells that convert urea into water, carbon dioxide, nitrogen and electricity. If you haven’t access to mains electricity, say when you camping, you can wee on your fuel cell (please go outside the tent) which will light your lantern and as a by product give you a nice drink of water as well. If it’s good enough for NASA astronauts it’s good enough for you.

I know it sounds a bit messy but the technology is in its early stages. Who knows what advances are to come in the next few years? If I could pee in my petrol tank every morning before work and drive right passed Esso, then they’re onto a winner I think.

Human urine is good, but so is pig’s urine. D’you know how many pigs there are out there in the pork industry? 285 million. 285 million pigs peeing is a problem – a stinky problem. The Dutch pork industry can no longer expand because of the government’s odour control restrictions. Not to worry, as always there’s someone who can help.

There is a company, Waste to Green, that will come to your farm and collect your urine for free. I’m talking about the pig’s urine, but you can add some yourself if you like, it’s all good. This solves your pollution problem, you won’t smell of wee and you’ll get yourself a girlfriend. Everyone is happy. The company can then use the urea to make plastics, fertilizer, glue and lipstick (don’t kiss that new girlfriend). If Waste to Green can collect urine from 1% of the 285 million pigs out there, they will make 1 billion US dollars per year (says the excited owner). Where’s my wellies and bucket?

So if collecting millions of gallons of pig’s wee is going to make you a billionaire, why can’t we collect our own? There are millions of gallons of pee waiting inside bladders right now and there’s a man, who used to own a portaloo business, extracting the urine. He is a urine miner. From human urine he can extract proteins, growth hormones, Prozac, in fact any drug that ends up in the bladder. Once extracted these drugs can be remanufactured and remarketed. The portaloo guy reckons mining urine is more lucrative than mining gold or oil. There’s a fortune right under our nostrils.

Just as an aside, I’ve got to ask: how’s your plumbs? Or your carrots or rhubarb for that matter? If your fruit and veg aren’t doing to well and the garden centre’s charging too much for its fancy soil mixtures, instead of wasting your urine in the toilet, nip outside and put it to good use. Urine is an excellent fertilizer and already used commercially on a large scale. Fertilizer urea is manufactured though, so it’s not the real stuff. Once manufactured urea becomes too expensive, there might be openings for full-time Tinklers, you never know.

Sally ends her urine journey at the Malt Whisky Society. She tries some whisky made from the urine of old people and diabetics. Older people and diabetics can’t convert sugar to energy, so these highly processed molecules are extracted and added during fermentation of the whisky. Sally didn’t sound to happy about it, but was quite chuffed with her joke ‘it’s a wee dram’ This turned out to be a con, the whisky wasn’t made from urine it was just some artist making some point that I didn’t understand, but worth putting into the programme for the joke.

It’s going to be difficult to make urine into a respected, recycled commodity. It’s just a bit nasty. But in this world of declining resources, we need to make more use of our wee before the high tech alternatives run out. Oh no, Sally needs to go to the toilet again. The programme ends with either Sally standing next to a large body of water falling into a deep gorge or back in cubicle three of the echoey toilet. Yuk…

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8 thoughts on “Science of pee

  1. Hi,
    That was hilarious, I just couldn’t’ help but smile all the way through. 😀

    I still had your blogger blog in my RSS feed, and it kept showing no new posts, now fixed and I now have this blog in my RSS feed. 🙂

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