Meet Gerardine Botte, a professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at Ohio University. Why are we talking about her? Well, because she has developed a unique and interesting technology to generate hydrogen fuel from urine. Yes, you read it right! Difficult to digest? Well, let us give you the lowdown on
how she went about it.
1. Botte recognised that urine contains two compounds that could be a source of hydrogen: ammonia and urea.
2. Her system operates similarly to the electrolysis of water, a process that can be used to produce hydrogen for fuel cells.
3. Please understand that ammonia and urea hold their hydrogen atoms less tightly than water does, so much less energy is required to split them off.
This technology will work best for power generation in settings where large numbers of people gather. Want some examples? How about airports, movie halls and even a good old office? According to Botte’s calculations, an office building with 200 to 300 workers could generate 2 kilowatts of power.
The approach could also address pollution associated with animal feedlots. The urine produced by 1,000 cows could generate 40 to 50 kilowatts of power, Botte estimates. And we get rid of noxious ammonia in the process.
If entomologists are to be believed, insects will be an important part of UK diet by 2020. As conventional meat becomes scarce, western diners will be forced to look at meat alternatives. "The most important thing is getting people prepared, getting used to the idea. Because from 2020 onwards, there won't be much of a choice for us,” says professor Marcel Dicke of Wageningen University.
Dicke heads a Netherlands-based four year programme aiming to produce a scientific and business plan to bring insects to dining tables in the west.
The starting point for the research programme at Wageningen University is the notion that 80 per cent of the world's population, knowingly or unknowingly, is already consuming insects. Ground insects are already found in common foods such as canned tomatoes and peanut butter, for example.
Did you know that more than 1,000 species of insects are eaten around the world? According to the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation, insects are vital to meeting the nutritional needs of the world's growing population, but they hardly feature in the diets of the rich nations.
“Being low in cholesterol and high in protein, insects produce less waste,” Dicke says. “We typically throw away three-quarters of a chicken, but can eat the same percentage of a locust. Insects also win on the ‘conversion factor’ or ration of feed ingested by the animal to the meat produced by it – known as ECI. Beef cattle has an ECI rate of 10 while the cockroach has an ECI rate of 44. The carbon emissions associated with growing insects is also far lower than those linked to conventional livestock.