For humanity to become a multiplanetary species we need to become very good at reducing our consumption, reusing materials and recycling our waste. These three rules can be tough to achieve on Earth, but imagine trying to live by them in deep space, isolated inside a spaceship for months or maybe years. Suddenly reducing, reusing and recycling isn't an option, it's necessary for survival.
Currently, the astronauts and cosmonauts on board the International Space Station are using technologies that recycle urine into purified drinking water, but that's just a drop in the bucket. According to new research presented at the 254th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS) on Aug. 22, urine is so much more.
"If astronauts are going to make journeys that span several years, we'll need to find a way to reuse and recycle everything they bring with them," said Mark A. Blenner, in the accompanying release. Blenner's an assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at Clemson University. "Atom economy will become really important," he adds.
Blenner's research focuses on the possibility of using microorganisms to convert the chemicals in urine and the carbon dioxide in exhaled breath into usable raw materials, like plastic. In other words, the chemicals pee contains wouldn't simply be discarded as toxic byproducts in water purification systems (as they are on the ISS), they could become an invaluable resource to fabricate tools and to manufacture supplements that are essential for human survival.