According to a recent report in the American Chemical Society's Sustainable Chemistry & Engineering journal, a new system could not only provide astronauts with clean drinking water, but also a renewable source of energy -- from their pee.
Astronaut urine is already recycled and turned into drinking water, but the waste that remains as a byproduct, namely urea, is ejected out into space. Researchers are developing a new Urea Bioreactor Electrochemical system (UBE) that can efficiently filter out the urea and then convert it into ammonia, which can then be used to produce energy in its fuel cell.
The American Chemical Society says, "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."
And now with the UBE system, the waste can also become another valuable energy source.
The UBE works by using a wastewater treatment process called forward osmosis to filter out contaminants from urine and shower wastewater, leaving clean water and urea separately. The researchers see the technology making a difference down on the earth too. The system could be used in any wastewater treatment systems where urea/and or ammonia are present to produce energy.