Aside from its medicinal benefits, weed may have another, more unexpected use; producing electricity. Researchers at Üsküdar University and İstanbul Technical University in Turkey have managed to create an electrical current using none other than cannabis consumers’ urine.
In a new study, published in Biosource Technology Reports, Turkish scientists have successfully remove cannabis metabolites from the urine of pot consumers to generate a household necessity.
The experiment was conducted using microbial fuel cells (MFC), a bio-electrochemical instrument that put chemical compounds and select bacteria together to produce electricity. The technology was developed to create alternative and sustainable sources of energy in developing countries, to replace fossil fuels such as coal and oil.
Turkish researchers found that putting synthetic and real urine that contains THC metabolites in an MFC produced both effects: 60 percent of the metabolite COOH-THC was eliminated while at the same time generating electricity.
The experiment involved the use of microbial fuel cells (MFC), bio-electrochemical devices that produce electric currents using the conversion of bacteria. Advocates of MFCs believe they represent a new method of renewable energy recovery.
While urine consists mostly of water, it also contains small amounts of urea, which is the waste product made up of carbon, oxygen, nitrogen, and hydrogen. MFCs work by forcing an electric current through liquid, like urine, creating a chemical reaction that splits the liquid into its chemical components. This process extracts electrons, which travel to a cathode and produce an electrical current.
In the study, researchers put both synthetic and real urine containing THC metabolites in an MFC and compared the results.
The researchers found putting real and synthetic urine into MFCs had two effects:
- MFCs eliminated up to 60 percent of the THC metabolite COOH-THC from the urine.
- Putting synthetic and real urine containing COOH-THC into MFCs was effective at generated electricity, although not as effective as urine from non-cannabis users.
“Untreated urine samples pooled from drug-free male donors produced 0.35 V of peak electricity in the fuel cells,” wrote the researchers. “When the urine samples were replaced with those from cannabis users (containing 170 ng/mL of COOH-THC), the maximum voltage of 0.23 V was achieved.”
They also found that the synthetic urine infused with COOH-THC produced slightly higher levels of electricity than real urine.
The study started out intending to investigate how to prevent the contamination of wastewater with cocaine metabolites. When people use drugs such as cocaine or marijuana, the original substance is broken down by their bodies into smaller molecules known as metabolites. These are excreted in urine, and from there, they enter the water system.
This is an issue because standard water treatment facilities do not have the technology to remove these metabolites from wastewater. Therefore, after treatment, the metabolites remain in the water and are free to enter the local ecosystem. This contamination poses a significant problem for aquatic life. It becomes more difficult to break down toxins, and oxidative stress occurs.
While searching for a solution to the issue, the researchers discovered that one of the primary metabolites of cocaine, benzoylecgonine, produced an electrical current when removed in a certain way. By passing contaminated urine through a piece of equipment known as a microbial fuel cell (MFC), the team was able to reduce toxins within the water by 25% and produce electrical energy as a by-product.
They became curious about whether the same effects would be seen with the primary cannabis metabolite, THC-COOH. As well as producing electricity, the scientists managed to successfully remove over 60% of the cannabis metabolite in their samples.
THC-COOH stands for 11-nor-9-carboxy-9-tetrahydrocannabinol. It is the main metabolite of THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol), the chemical in cannabis that is responsible for its intoxicating effects.
When you consume THC, whether by smoking, vaping, or edibles, it travels to the liver where it is broken down by the enzymes of the cytochrome P450 pathway. It is first broken down by hydroxylation into 11-hydroxy-delta-9-THC and then by further oxidation into THC-COOH.
THC-COOH is then excreted in the urine, and it is this compound which can be detected by urinalysis drug tests. It is estimated that 15% to 20% of the original THC dose is excreted in this way. That means that a considerable amount of THC-COOH is passing into our water systems every day.
What Does This Research Mean for the Future?
The researchers tested real urine from cannabis users and non-users and compared it with synthetic urine samples. They found that cannabis consumers’ urine produced slightly less electricity compared with the other samples, with a peak voltage of 0.23V compared with 0.35V for non-users’ urine and 0.33V for synthetic urine.
It seems that there is no real advantage to using marijuana users’ urine over other urine in MFCs. However, that does not mean there is no benefit at all. As previously mentioned, the team managed to remove 60% of the THC-COOH from contaminated water, and that is a significant amount. Furthermore, once THC-COOH was removed from the samples, their original energy-producing capacity was restored.
If MFC technology were to be implemented in water treatment plants worldwide, it could have a major positive impact on the environment. Not only would the water supply become cleaner, but we could also enjoy a new source of renewable energy to benefit the planet further.
Hemp seeds are rich in oils which can be converted into fuel through a process known as transesterification. Using virgin hemp seed oil, Parnas and the team managed to convert an impressive 97% to biodiesel.
This biodiesel could potentially be used in all the same ways that regular diesel can, but in a much more environmentally friendly way. Aside from the fact that it is much greener than fossil fuels, hemp is a highly sustainable crop. It grows in a variety of different climates and requires very little in the way of pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers.
So, what’s the downside? Why aren’t we already using hemp as fuel?
In the past, there has been unwarranted prejudice against hemp, as many people confuse it with its cousin marijuana. However, unlike marijuana, hemp produces minimal THC and does not cause a psychoactive ‘high.’
Although attitudes toward hemp are slowly changing, there is another major obstacle to it becoming a conventional fuel: Cost. Hemp seeds are highly nutritious and in recent years, have become a rather fashionable food. Currently, farmers can make far more money selling hemp seeds as a food than a fuel crop. And until that changes, we are unlikely to see hemp biofuel becoming more popular.