In space, recycled urine has many uses

BY Willis Raburu  April 9, 2014 at 12:49 PM EST
Astronauts have already gotten used to the idea of drinking their recycled urine. A new device could potentially use waste water for both drinking and for fuel. Photo by Flickr user European Space Agency

Astronauts have already gotten used to the idea of drinking their recycled urine. A new device could potentially use waste water for both drinking and for fuel. Photo by Flickr user European Space Agency

Recycled urine is something astronauts are already psychologically prepared to consume when they go to outer space. But a new report published in the ACS Sustainable Chemistry & Engineering journal suggests that rather than releasing wasted urine into space, scientist are working on a new technique that can convert the urine into drinking water and fuel.

The reasoning behind this? Cost. Due to the high cost of delivering supplies to space, the recovery of potable water from spacecraft wastewater is critical for life support of crewmembers, the report said.

The report’s authors Eduardo Nicolau, Carlos R. Cabrera and colleagues used their new Urea Bioreactors Electrochemical System, or UBE, to collect urine and shower wastewater and filtered out urea and water using forward osmosis.

Potable water isn’t the only value of the waste. It can be used as fuel, too.

A bioreactor that can recover urea from the wastewater converts it into ammonia, which is used to feed an electrochemical cell that can generate electrical energy.

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 wrote.