My watch list
my.chemeurope.com  
Login  

Recycling astronaut urine for energy and drinking water

10-Apr-2014

On the less glamorous side of space exploration, there's the more practical problem of waste — in particular, what to do with astronaut pee. But rather than ejecting it into space, scientists are developing a new technique that can turn this waste burden into a boon by converting it into fuel and much-needed drinking water. Their report, which could also inspire new ways to treat municipal wastewater, appears in the journal ACS Sustainable Chemistry & Engineering.

Eduardo Nicolau, Carlos R. Cabrera and colleagues point out that human waste on long-term journeys into space makes up about half of the mission's total waste. Recycling it is critical to keeping a clean environment for astronauts. And when onboard water supplies run low, treated urine can become a source of essential drinking water, which would otherwise have to be delivered from Earth at a tremendous cost. Previous research has shown that a wastewater treatment process called forward osmosis in combination with a fuel cell can generate power. Nicolau's team decided to build on these initial findings to meet the challenges of dealing with urine in space.

They collected urine and shower wastewater and processed it using forward osmosis, a way to filter contaminants from urea, a major component of urine, and water. Their new Urea Bioreactor Electrochemical system (UBE) efficiently converted the urea into ammonia in its bioreactor, and then turned the ammonia into energy with its fuel cell.

The system was designed with space missions in mind, but "the results showed that the UBE system could be used in any wastewater treatment systems containing urea and/or ammonia," the researchers conclude.

Facts, background information, dossiers
More about American Chemical Society
  • News

    As tellurium demands rise, so do contamination concerns

    As technology advances, demands for tellurium, a rare element, are on the rise. Some forms of tellurium are toxic, so as the element finds applications in solar panels, rubber production, electronics and more, researchers are becoming concerned about possible environmental contamination. No ... more

    Nanowires could make lithium ion batteries safer

    From cell phones and laptops to electric vehicles, lithium-ion batteries are the power source that fuels everyday life. But in recent years, they have also drawn attention for catching fire. In an effort to develop a safer battery, scientists report that the addition of nanowires can not on ... more

    Dog's nose inspires new gas sensor materials

    It is well known that dogs have a better sense of smell than humans. For years, researchers have been trying to develop an artificial detector that is just as good as a canine's nose. Now, one group reports in ACS Nano that they were able to mimic a dog's sniffer with graphene-based nanoscr ... more

  • Videos

    Why is Olive Oil Awesome?

    Whether you sop it up with bread or use it to boost your cooking, olive oil is awesome. But a lot of chemistry goes on in that bottle that can make or break a product. Take the “extra virgin” standard: Chemistry tells us that a higher free-fatty-acid content leads to a lower grade, less tas ... more

    Microbots zoom around water, destroying bacteria

    One day, the tiny robot you see here could help clean up contaminated water. In places where potable sources are scarce, they can destroy disease-causing bacteria in its path and unlike conventional disinfectants, the microbots can be removed easily with a magnet. more

    The chemicals we leave behind

    The products we use every day leave behind chemical footprints. Learn how and why researchers are now studying those trails. Mass spectrometry is helping researchers learn more about our interactions with the everyday chemicals we use, such as DEET, caffeine, even medications. In this episo ... more

  • Events
    Conference
    22-08 – 26-08
    2021
    Boston, US

    262nd ACS National Meeting & Exposition

    The American Chemical Society conference 262nd ACS National Meeting & Exposition will take place in Boston, US from 2021-08-22 to 2021-08-26. more

    Conference
    21-03 – 25-03
    2021
    San Antonio, US

    261st ACS National Meeting & Exposition

    The American Chemical Society conference 261st ACS National Meeting & Exposition will take place in San Antonio, US from 2021-03-21 to 2021-03-25. more

    Conference
    23-08 – 27-08
    2020
    San Francisco, US

    260th ACS National Meeting & Exposition

    The American Chemical Society conference 260th ACS National Meeting & Exposition will take place in San Francisco, US from 2020-08-23 to 2020-08-27. more

Your browser is not current. Microsoft Internet Explorer 6.0 does not support some functions on Chemie.DE