25Apr2014

Could Astronaut Urine Fuel a Trip to Mars?

Urine

Astronauts Drink Urine and Other Waste Water in Space (Photo : YouTube/Screen Shot )

Pee and other human waste certainly aren’t the most glamorous aspects of space, but all the same, they’re a practical problem for those in orbit. A number of things need to be considered.

For instance, there comes the critical question: What to do with astronaut waste? Fortunately, scientists have come up with a new process that can recycle urine into both water and energy, and it’s not just limited to space. Could we all be generating pee-fuel?

 Though urine is typically considered something to dispose of, Eduardo Nicolau and Carlos R. Cabrera, chemists at the University of Puerto Rico, Rio Pierdas, believe in its converting potential. As it stands, NASA estimates a $10,000 per pound cost of space shuttle cargo. In other words, resupplying spaceships with destinations to far off planets–including Mars–would be incredibly expensive and next potentially next to impossible.

 For many long-term crew members, this means the best method of reusable sources is recycling their water–a source which primarily comes from their own urine. In fact, Nicolau estimates that a spacecraft’s wastewater will account for more than 81 percent of recyclable fluids, according to Science.

 “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,” Nicolau said, via IANSLive.

 With the use of forward osmosis in a combination of fuel cell that generates power, Nicolau and Cabrera believe that they can filter the contaminants from urine. Their research has allowed them to efficiently convert urea into ammonia in its bioreactor and then turn 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, via a press release.

 More information regarding the findings can be seen via the journal ACS Sustainable Chemistry & Engineering.  Want to learn more about how astronauts use recyclable wastes in space? Check out this video with ISS commander Chris Hadfield from April 2013. Adated from information supplied Science World Report

 

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