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Hydrogen and Alkali Metals

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Pee for Power

Pee for Power

Credit: A. Sobolev
Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Lamp_082.jpg
License: CC BY-NC 3.0

You turn on a light with the flick of a switch. You may have done it thousands of time and never given it a thought—unless you live in a part of the world where electricity is unreliable.

The Back Story

  • In many parts of the world, power outages are a daily occurrence. Some places have no electric power infrastructure at all. Families that can afford it may buy a household electric generator to produce electricity when the power goes out.
  • Most generators run on gasoline. Gasoline-powered generators have two major problems: gasoline is expensive and burning gasoline produces air pollution.
  • Credit: nereocystis
    Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/56789206@N08/6304547575
    License: CC BY-NC 3.0

    Gas generators can be handy but they create a great deal of pollution [Figure2]


  • In 2013, three Nigerian high-school students developed a generator that solves both problems. The generator runs on hydrogen gas produced from the water in human urine. The fuel is readily available and produces no pollution when used.
  • How did the students get hydrogen from water? You can see how it’s done in the following video:


Can You Apply It?

Learn more about the pee-to-power project at the link below. Then answer the questions that follow.

  1. Describe how to break down water into hydrogen and oxygen gases. What type of chemical reaction is this?
  2. How can you identify the hydrogen and oxygen gases produced when water breaks down?
  3. Which produces more electricity per liter, urine or gasoline? How much more?
  4. Most of the electricity produced by the hydrogen generator goes into producing hydrogen fuel for the generator. What’s the point of a hydrogen generator? What is its main advantage over a gasoline generator?

Image Attributions

  1. [1]^ Credit: A. Sobolev; Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Lamp_082.jpg; License: CC BY-NC 3.0
  2. [2]^ Credit: nereocystis; Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/56789206@N08/6304547575; License: CC BY-NC 3.0


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