Just in case you needed more evidence that girls can excel in science as well as guys, here it is: fourteen-year-olds Duro-Aina Adebola, Akindele Abiola, Faleke Oluwatoyin and 15-year-old Bello Eniola have built a power generator that can create six hours-worth of electricity using a liter of urine as fuel. The young women displayed their invention at Maker Faire, an annual event in Lagos, Nigeria.
The Maker Faire Blog explains how the urine-powered generator works:
• Urine is put into an electrolytic cell, which separates out the hydrogen.
• The hydrogen goes into a water filter for purification, and then into a gas cylinder, which looks similar to the kind used for outdoor barbecue grills.
• The gas cylinder pushes the filtered hydrogen into another cylinder that contains liquid borax, in order to remove moisture from the gas. Borax is a natural mineral, commonly used in laundry detergent.
• The hydrogen is pushed into a power generator in the final step of the process.
The girls used one-way valves throughout the device as a safety measure to prevent the hydrogen from combusting, but it still poses a risk.
Although the idea of using urine as fuel is not new, the girls’ invention utilizes a very practical means by which to put the idea into practice. Continuing to find new power sources like this is essential since generators play an essential role in Africa, kicking in during power outages which, in Lagos, occur multiple times a day. Using urine as fuel significantly cuts down on the cost of generating electricity, making owning a generator far more feasible for those who are less wealthy.
Unfortunately, the technology behind harvesting the usable hydrogen from urine does need further development before it can be applied on a large-scale basis. At the moment, hydrogen extraction is still rather inefficient; the hydrogen generates less energy than it takes to extract it.
Nevertheless, it is remarkable how these young women have been able to overcome the bias against women in the STEM fields to build this device. This partiality can potential inhibit women’s scientific ability; The New York Times described an experiment in which
“college students with strong math backgrounds and similar abilities were divided into two groups and tested on math. One group was told that men perform better on the test, the other that there was no difference in performance between the sexes. Their results were starkly different: in the group told that men do better, men indeed did much better, with an average score of 25 compared with the women’s 5. In the group told there was no difference, women scored 17 and men 19.”
It is essential that we recognize the scientific achievements of women around the world, including these four young women and their groundbreaking urine-fueled generator. It is only through this acknowledgment that we can continue to bring women into the STEM fields, and with modern problems like climate change finally moving to the forefront of politics, we're going to need all the scientists we can get!
Images courtesy of makerfaireafrica.com, whiteafrican on flickr.com, and gdb.voanews.com.