Poop recycling: Researchers push the limits of human waste with bricks, bioplastics and radiation shields

Imagine using poop to transport a spacecraft to and from Mars, protecting yourself from cosmic radiation along the way.

Poop has power: medicine, fertilizer, biomethane gas It has proven applications such as reclaimed water. But it has only scratched the surface of our excretion capacity. Its biological, chemical and physical properties have prompted even more extensive and forward-thinking brainstorming about what else we can create from our waste.
The extremes of space, in particular, have driven scientific innovation towards a leaner and more circular economy. Its invention is based on the universal truth that everyone has to go someday, even astronauts. Even within NASA Poop-themed crowdsourcing challengessome recent competition called for a new Lunar Toilet Design Ideas while another – Waste to Substrate Challenge: Sustainable Reprocessing in Space — We asked the public to help brainstorm ways to recycle both astronaut trash and excrement.
It’s all about self-sufficient flying. One goal is to create polymers from organic waste, says Steve Sepka, project manager for garbage compaction and disposal systems at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California. spaceflight propulsion system — As well as surface missions.

For the return flight from Mars, the space agency was initially considering producing fuel from Martian resources, Sepka wrote in an email. But NASA is now considering whether recycling waste from the crew themselves could help astronauts.

When it comes to protecting crews from dangerously high radiation levels in outer space during long voyages, scientists suggest that the density of molecules in wastewater could provide a solution. NASA proposal “Water Wall Architecture” It envisions a space capsule lined with multiple water compartments and sterile waste deployed as a radiation shield. The main component of urine and feces is water, and the atoms of hydrogen and oxygen contained in water are densely packed, so there is a higher density of cosmic ray-blocking nuclei than metals. Think of it as a doo doo deflector.

Water-based shields work well at blocking radiation particles, says Peter Guida, liaison biologist at NASA’s National Space Radiation Laboratory and scientist at its host institution, Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York. said that it is possible to

In space, all heavy but necessary cargo, including water, is valuable. “If I have it anyway, can I use it for anything?” he said. “In theory, it should work.”

plastic proposal

Now re-imagine a wastewater treatment plant on Earth that doubles as a multi-purpose resource recovery facility.as an alternative plastic made from fossil fuelsFor example, researchers are working to produce safe, biodegradable bioplastics from existing waste streams.
Making earth-friendly bottles, containers and other bio-plastic products from what we have left behind work still in progresssaid Zeynep Cetecioglu Gurol, Associate Professor of Industrial Biotechnology at KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, Sweden. Nevertheless, developing efficient and affordable methods for recovering new products from wastewater can help offset the cost, time, and effort expended by treatment plants to meet wastewater pollution limits. There is a nature. “I think it’s a win-win,” she said.
What happens to the discarded plastic?

Many sewage treatment plants use a microbial-dependent process called anaerobic digestion to produce biomethane gas, a sustainable alternative fuel, from sewage. Cetecioglu Gurol and other researchers found that the organic compounds produced during the biogas production process provide an excellent carbon source for producing bioplastics. Our current goal is to increase production efficiency. “We are still in the baby stage,” she said.

A type of bioplastic called polyhydroxybutyrate (PHB) is produced naturally by some bacterial species eating organic matter. Tests suggest that PHB can replace various petroleum-based plastics and, unlike them, rapidly biodegrade under normal environmental conditions.

A bacterial strain called Zobellella denitrificans ZD1 has caught the attention of researchers like Kung-Hui Chu, professor of environment, water resources, and coastal engineering at Texas A&M University. Chu and his colleagues found that this strain, which normally lives in mangrove swamps, can also thrive in glycerol (an industrial by-product), wastewater and sewage sludge. His ability to accumulate PHB when grown in such a variety of conditions makes him a promising candidate. Converting waste into bioplastic Or into other useful products like fish food.

lots of bricks

Around the world, treated sewage solids are still commonly incinerated or buried. However, incinerating the waste produces ash, which is often reduced to a fraction of the original volume and still ends up in landfills. Again, researchers are actively investigating ways to convert solids and ash into useful products.

A recycling process like this could yield a ton of bricks. Australia’s Royal His engineer at the Melbourne Institute of Technology focuses on alleviating the environmental problem of excavating clay soils for brick production, and as part of that, he uses treated sewage solids (biosolids). I’m looking for a way to incorporate it into fired bricks. If making poop bricks seems like an unusual use, consider that animal droppings are used. build a house When produce pottery for centuries.
A pile of cow dung being recycled by Museo Della Merda on March 28, 2017.
When fired at approximately 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit for 10 hours, clay bricks containing varying amounts of treated biosolids from Melbourne residents were not as strong as their traditional counterparts. But they were lighter, had better insulation, and were indistinguishable both by appearance and smell.a 2019 paper Civil engineer Abbas Mohajerani and colleagues at the lab say bricks made with at least 15 percent biosolids could theoretically meet engineering requirements while recycling millions of tons of manure residue. suggested it could.
A follow-up study by another group of researchers at the Melbourne Laboratory found that raw biosolids, biochar (charcoal made from biosolids), and incinerated sewage sludge ash All can be used as cement substitute materialsOther British researchers suggest: Sewage sludge ash could be reused in tiles and glass-ceramics It also has wide application potential in the building industry.
In fact, the Museo Della Merda in Lombardy, Italy has already made terracotta tiles, flowerpots and tableware from a mixture of cow pie and clay.it is called melda cotta.

Of course, the discomfort factor can be a higher barrier to recycled feces consumer products such as bioplastic cups and ceramic plates. The increasing challenge of extracting resources gives researchers a source of raw materials that can support exploration and drive investment in sanitary infrastructure by turning waste streams into revenues. . even better? This particular natural asset will never be depleted.

Source: www.cnn.com

Scroll to Top