Australian researchers are finding ways to get more power from wastewater. 

Urea is abundant in wastewater and can be used to power fuel cells.

At the University of Adelaide, researchers are developing a new generation of high performance catalysts to improve the efficiency of using urea loaded wastewater to generate clean energy.

“Our new catalyst made from nickel ferrocyanide requires less energy input and could also reduce the urea content of waste water,” says Associate Professor Yao Zheng, first author on a new study published this week.

“We have shown for the first time that we can make the process in the electrolyser work more efficiently so it can reduce the energy input and produce more hydrogen, than those that use existing catalysts.”

The efficiency of modern energy conversion technologies that use urea is determined by the electrochemical urea oxidation reaction (UOR). 

The design and synthesis of new catalysts plays a key role for the development of the technologies. 

“We sought to improve on existing UOR catalysts which tend to perform poorly,” says Professor Shizhang Qiao, a joint-corresponding author of the study.

“Only a few of this existing technology produces sustained energy output.

“Electrocatalytic techniques can convert urea-rich wastewater, which has become a big threat to human health, to hydrogen for clean energy generation as well as reducing its harmful effects on the environment.”