03/09/2015 03:33 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Toilet Could Turn Urine Into Electricity At Refugee Camps

An innovative urinal could turn pee into a source of electricity.

Driven to find a way to protect women and girls in refugee camps who are often assaulted when they go to the bathroom at night, researchers at the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol) have devised a urinal that lights up when a person uses it.

“They are facing abuse and being molested,” Andy Bastable, Oxfam’s head of water and sanitation, said of the risks female refugees face in the evenings. “If we could light up the area around the toilets, it would make it safer for them.”

In the Za’atari camp in Jordan, for example, which is home to 120,000 refugees, the women are at such great risk of getting attacked at the communal restrooms that females typically don’t go to the bathroom after 10 p.m., according to Amnesty International USA. But by restricting themselves, the girls and women are developing urinary tract infections, among other health issues.

With backing from Oxfam and the Gates Foundation, the innovators unveiled a prototype loo on Thursday at UWE Bristol and have asked students to donate their urine to get the program up and running, Oxfam announced in a press release.

The light is generated by microbial fuel cells (MFCs). Those cells rely on live microbes, which are able to grow by feeding off of urine, according to Oxfam.

These same scientists were also the brains behind the technology that uses pee to power mobile phones.

The energy is efficient and cheap.

One urinal could cost 600 British pounds (about $900) to produce.

The team is hopeful that the pee-power technology could eventually be scaled to light up other areas of refugee camps and disaster zones.

“This technology is about as green as it gets,” said Ioannis Ieropoulos, the lead researcher, “as we do not need to utilize fossil fuels and we are effectively using a waste product that will be in plentiful supply.”

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