Delhi dials Pee for Power

Here’s one way in which you can contribute to the city by not peeing in the open. The Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) is planning to convert urine collected in its public urinals into power. The civic agency has roped in engineers from a USbased company to study the feasibility of producing power from urine released from its waterless urinals, which are ceramic bowls containing negligible water and bio-degradable chemicals in a cartridge (see graphic). Having already set up two waterless urinals at Town Hall and ISBT, MCD wants to develop 1,000 such kiosks, each comprising four urinals, in the city before Commonwealth Games 2010. According to estimates made by Karan Aneja and Siddhartha Saha, who are engineering graduates from University of California, Berkeley, over 20,000 KW power can be generated from these 1,000 kiosks from 20,000 litres of urine. Aneja, who is a bio-engineer, claims that they have already generated electricity from urine and their company, SIDKAR, has set up a plant at Okhla as a pilot project. Said Aneja: ‘‘From one litre of urine, we will be able to produce 1 KW of power. Using a bacterial process in a power plant, urine is converted into hydrogen gas and water. While water is cleaned by reverse osmosis and can be used for industrial purpose, hydrogen is used to produce electricity.’’ Though this is the first time something like this is being attempted in India, MCD’s dismal track record in implementing such innovative projects raises many questions about the viability of the plan. Experts say that the projection of 1 KW of power from one litre of urine is way too extreme. Moreover, the process of breaking down the waste is very time-consuming, they contend. However, Aneja said it takes only 19 seconds. While such projects will indeed raise doubts, there have been attempts round the world to breake urine into hydrogen for producing energy (see graphic). The civic body has been working on this project for the past nine months. Said Saha, who is a chemical engineer: ‘‘ We started work on this concept two years ago. Billboards installed around these toilets will be lit up from the power produced through this process. The cost of setting up the power plant is Rs 1.5 lakh.’’ They hope to start the project by August-end. At present, safety issues are being looked into as a combustible gas is produced at the end of the process. Saha said they are not looking at profits. ‘‘MCD is not investing anything in the project except for providing the land. Once the project takes off, we would like to extend it to other parts of the country too. We wanted to start from Delhi as the city was already working on waterless toilets. Moreover, it is also the venue of Commonwealth Games 2010.’’ Confirming that the project is on track, an MCD official said that this would ensure well-maintained urinals in the city. He said: ‘‘The waterless toilets help save water besides taking care of the problem of foul smell. The area around it will also be wellmaintained after the power plants come up.’’

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