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New invention could convert astronaut waste into usable fuel

NASA scientists first postulated using astronaut waste as a fuel source back in 2006, but at the time such an application was not possible. However, thanks to researchers working out of the University of Florida that thought could become a reality.

Currently, waste from the International Space Station and other space missions is released to burn up into the planet’s atmosphere. However, the researchers at the University of Florida have made moves to change all that, BetaWired reports. This change comes from a new invention called the anaerobic digester, a device which NASA hopes will begin to utilize space waste in a new form of recycling.

The digester, which was created by Pratap Pullammanappallil and Abhishek Dhoble, breaks down certain waste items and then converts them into fuel. A demonstration of this was put on by NASA, where items that would commonly make up waste (such as food, wash cloths and packaging materials) were broken down into methane and carbon dioxide. The digester first removes all pathogens from the waste before this process takes place. This conversion could be very important in the near future, as methane can be utilized to power certain systems.

The digester is set to produce as much as 290 liters of methane per crew, per day, and also produces water as part of the process. This water is non-potable, but does amount to somewhere around 200 gallons a year. This could be used to irrigate both plants and vegetables. In addition, if electrolysis were used, the water could also be split into oxygen and hydrogen, which the astronauts could then breathe. In fact, the uses for the digester could even go beyond space. Reports state that the implications could extend to here on Earth, where the methane produced by the waste could be used for heating or to power vehicles.