Duro-Aina Adebola, 14, was inspired to use urine to generate electricity after reading an article about a family of five who died as a result of carbon monoxide poisoning. They had inhaled fumes from their generator while sleeping.
Disturbed by the incident, she pondered how she could contribute to preventing similar incidents in the future. The solution was to find another power source that did not emit carbon monoxide.
According to UNICEF, she discussed the idea with three of her friends: Akindele Abiola, Faleke Oluwatoyin, both 14, and Bello Eniola, who was 15 at the time. The “Fantastic Four,” as they were later dubbed, began their quest to perfect their invention, which generates an hour of electricity from one liter of urine.
The team stated that they discussed their idea with their science teacher, Olaide Lawal, who indicated that it was feasible. As a result of this inspiration, the Fantastic Four began experimenting with alternative energy sources to carbon.
The team realized that rocket engines run on hydrogen. Their premise was that if hydrogen was used as the raw material in their generator, the end product would be water. The team stated that they ran into a problem after experimenting with water. Water produces very little hydrogen. They calculated that electrolyzing water would cause the generator to lose 1.25 volts per cycle.
Adebola suggested to the team that they experiment with a material that is free but generates enough power to power domestic activity. It was at this point that they considered using urine as a raw material source. She stated that at first, they constructed a system consisting of an electrolytic cell made from an old car battery. The system also included filters, pipes, and an empty gas storage tank.
“We then reconfigured our petrol-based generator and carried out our first experiment – and then we faced another huge challenge as the cell exploded,” the team told UNICEF. “We kept on checking our process and setup until Mr. Lawal pointed out our error: The hydrogen-oxygen gas mixture was returning to the cell. We then inserted one-way valves into the pipes to ensure a one-directional flow of the gas mixture, and it worked!”
When the team first displayed their invention in public, no one believed it would work. But the teenagers never gave up hope; instead, they improved it.
When they displayed their invention again at the Maker Faire Africa in 2012, they gained national attention. They’ve since won national and international recognition for their urine-powered generators. The Lagos State government has also expressed a desire to fund the invention’s large-scale development so that it can be used in homes.
The team stated that the invention would not have been a success if their school, Doregos Private Academy, had not provided funding, transportation, and moral support for them to pursue their dream.