Astronauts’ pee already gets recycled into water on space missions, but now NASA has found a way to transform their urine into fuel. Scientists have devised a process called forward osmosis that extracts ammonia from the astronaut’s urine so that it can be combined with fuel cells to produce clean and renewable energy.
Astronauts produce the majority of waste during long term space missions on a spacecraft. Realizing an opportunity to put this waste to good use years ago, a team of scientists devised a way to recycle urine into usable water with a treatment and filtering system. More recently, they decided to take recycling to a whole new level.
Using the forward osmosis process, NASA scientists isolate ammonia from urea extracted from the urine. The ammonia is then combined with fuel cells to create a fuel that actually helps to run the space craft. Instead of having to find a place to store the urine, NASA has turned it into a valuable resource!
In addition to using the technology to run space crafts, NASA sees potential in transforming urine into power at wastewater plants here on Earth too. With anaerobic digesters already commonly deployed, upcycling urea into ammonia doesn’t seem so far fetched.