Could space station urine recycling system be used on Earth, too?

November 29, 2008

(ChattahBox) — Astronauts aboard the International Space Station ran their first successful test Tuesday of a $154 million water recycling system, that turns urine into drinking water, after five days of tinkering. This raises a question: can this system be practically used on earth.  According to the World Health Organization, some 1.1 billion people lack access to clean water. That’s almost 1 in 6 human beings. And according to the United Nations Development Program, women and girls in developing countries collectively spend more than 10 million “person-years” hauling water from remote sources each year. A study published in Nature in April predicts that, by 2025 more than half of the world’s countries will face freshwater stress or shortages, and by 2050, as much as 75 percent of the world’s population could face freshwater scarcity.

A cheap and reliable urine-to-potable-water device could solve what is arguably the world’s (No. 1) problem, so to speak. The recycling system, which also processes sweat and moisture from the air, was designed to quench astronauts’ thirst while requiring fewer costly resupply missions. Samples of the recycled water will be tested back on earth before astronauts aboard the station can start drinking from the system’s tap. It wouldn’t be the first time that NASA’s water-purification technology spins off into the developing world. In 2006, engineers from the space agency helped develop a system for the northern Iraqi village of Kendala, which filters and purifies water from nearby streams, wells, and swamps.

It is not as disgusting as it sounds. As NASA astronaut Sandra H. Magnus told the New York Times after pointing out that water flushed down our toilets eventually evaporates and rains down into our reservoirs. “We drink recycled water every day — on a little bit longer time scale.”  Aside from revulsion, a major obstacle to widespread urine recycling is the energy needed. You can distill it, but that requires bringing it to a boil.  The Watercone, a simple solar still designed to purify sea water, holds great promise as an inexpensive solution. But its maker remains silent on whether the award-winning device would work with urine.

The mind behind the Segway scooter, Dean Kamen, has no such reservations. He appeared on the Colbert Report in March, claiming that his energy-sipping Slingshot vapor compression distiller could produce 1,000 liters of water a day out of any wet substance, including the ocean, a puddle, a chemical waste site, or “a 50-gallon drum of urine.”


Comments

One Response to “Could space station urine recycling system be used on Earth, too?”

  1. » Could space station urine recycling system be used on Earth, too … on November 29th, 2008 7:51 pm

    […] “We drink recycled water every day — on a little bit longer time scale.” Aside from revulsion, a major obstacle to widespread urine recycling is the energy needed. You can distill it, but that requires bringing it to a boil. Original post […]

Got something to say? **Please Note** - Comments may be edited for clarity or obscenity, and all comments are published at the discretion of ChattahBox.com - Comments are the opinions of the individuals leaving them, and not of ChattahBox.com or its partners. - Please do not spam or submit comments that use copyright materials, hearsay or are based on reports where the supposed fact or quote is not a matter of public knowledge are also not permitted.