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Human urine is about 96 percent water and four percent waste products, but there are more than 3,000 compounds that are found in the fluid. Army scientists are experimenting with producing hydrogen from urine. U.S. Army photo by David McNally, ARL Public Affairs

Human urine is about 96 percent water and four percent waste products, but there are more than 3,000 compounds that are found in the fluid. Army scientists are experimenting with producing hydrogen from urine. (Courtesy of the U.S. Army, photo by David McNally, ARL Public Affairs)

Scientists at the U.S. Army Research Laboratory observed an unexpected result when combining urine with a newly engineered nano-powder based on aluminum. It instantly releases hydrogen from the urine at much higher rate than with ordinary water.

The research team announced earlier this summer that a nano-galvanic aluminum-based powder they were developing produced pure hydrogen when coming into contact with water. The researchers observed a similar reaction when adding their powder to any liquid containing water.

    “What we do as Army scientists is develop materials and technology that will directly benefit the soldier and enhance their capabilities,” said Dr. Kristopher Darling, an ARL researcher. “We developed a new processing technique to synthesize a material, which spontaneously splits water into hydrogen.”

Hydrogen, the most plentiful element in the universe, has the potential to power fuel cells and provide energy to future soldiers.

Fuel cells generate electricity quietly, efficiently and without pollution. According to a Department of Energy’s website, fuel cells are “more energy-efficient than combustion engines and the hydrogen used to power them can come from a variety of sources.”

In space, astronauts recycle waste water and urine because drinking water is a precious commodity. For soldiers in austere environments, there are many precious commodities. Power and energy is becoming increasingly important to run communications and electronics gear for away teams, which can’t be resupplied.

Making use of urine as fuel source may result in tremendous benefits for soldiers, officials said.

The team is working closely with other researchers at the laboratory, including the Sensors and Electron Devices Directorate, to discover how to harness the material as a potential energy source.

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