Scientists turn urine into space plant fertilizer

  • Long-distance space travel requires a stable self-contained stay in tightly enclosed environments.
  • Basic human needs such as growing food and dealing with water have not yet been researched.
  • Scientists from the University of Tokyo have developed a method to convert human urine into ammonia fertilizer for growing food.

In science fiction they have all discovered: Ancient Earth dwellers roam the galleries in giant space stations that consume nothing – everything, and everyone, recycled. Now, however, much remains to be seen. Real-world solutions need to be created that come together to create the sustainable enclosed environments that will be essential for spaceships and space colonies, not to mention terrestrial environments that we hope to explore.

Researchers at Tokyo University of Science, led by Norihiro Suzuki, have just published a study in the form of a letter in the New Journal of Chemistry. He proposes an innovative system for obtaining ammonia-based liquid fertilizers from human urine, a benefit that would treat waste at the same time as it benefits agriculture.

The basic idea

Way away by ourselves

Credit: Luca Oleastri / Adobe Stock / Big Think

In the past, we have built communities in areas that provide the resources we need to sustain ourselves. When we need to grow food, we have found places that have water, land on which we can grow food and raise livestock, a dense climate, enough space for us to live, and as that on. As we leave such an environment so calm, that all goes out airlock. As things stand now, all we will have is what we take with us as we step out into the stars.

Traditionally the most successful types of fertilizer include nitrogen-rich animal waste. With this in mind, Suzuki’s team has been working on the production of ammonia – which is made up of nitrogen and oxygen – derived from the urea compound found in urine.

Suzuki said, “I joined the ‘Agriteam Space’ which is involved in food production, and my research specialization is in physical chemistry; so I came up with the idea of ​​making fertilizer. liùlach. “

“This process is of interest from the point of view of producing a useful product,” Suzuki says, “i.e., ammonia, from waste production, i.e., urine, using common equipment at atmospheric pressure and ambient temperature. room. “

How it works

Credit: Suzuki, et al./New Journal of Chemistry

The researchers’ experiments so far have used artificial urine.

The electrochemical process created by the scientists working at room temperature.

On the one hand, a reactant cell held both 50 milliliters of artificial urine sample and a boron diamond electrode (BDD) in a photocatalyst of titanium oxide that was continuously stimulated during the process. On the other side was an anti-cell in which platinum electricity was immersed in salt water. When a constant current of 70 mA was introduced into the BDD electrode, the urea oxidized and formed ammonia atoms.

As part of the experiment, the researchers exposed the BDD immersed in a photocatalyst to see if that affected the process, and found that it resulted in less ammonia. to oxidize.

Next up, Suzuki says, “We plan to do the test with real urine samples, as it contains not only key elements (phosphorus, nitrogen, potassium) but also secondary elements. (sulfa, calcium, magnesium) which is essential for plant nutrition! “

Counting down

Space Agriteam at the University of Tokyo is part of the school’s Research Center for Space Colony. Clearly, agriculture in space is a key element in developing the future of mankind. Their emphasis is on finding technical solutions to the development of safe, sustainable place agriculture that thrives in a completely enclosed environment.

The potential for the researchers’ new invention is clear to Suzuki, who predicts “that it will be useful for long-term stays in closed spaces such as space stations.”

Related Articles Across The Web