Filter designed for astronaut urine may soon provide clean drinking water on Earth

LED lighting technology developed to help astronauts avoid sleep deprivation has been adapted for home use; a weightlifting system to keep astronauts fit in zero gravity is used in home workouts.

Now, a company that designed a water purification system for the ISS is developing spin-off technologies that can deliver clean water to places that need it most.

On the ISS, every drop of moisture, from moisture to urine, needs to be filtered and reused. But the current system is very heavy, needs to be replaced every 90 days and fails to filter out some contaminants, according to NASA.

Danish company Aquaporin A / S has developed a new system that uses proteins called aquaporins. “It’s basically the mechanism that allows water to pass through the cell membrane of living cells,” says Peter Holme Jensen, CEO of Aquaporin A / S. In nature, these proteins allow plant roots to absorb soil water and allow the two human kidneys to filter together about 45 gallons of fluid per day. They are also very selective, preventing contaminants from passing through.

After testing it in space, NASA plans to replace its current system with Aquaporin’s, but the technology is also finding uses closer to home.

More than 2 billion people around the world do not have access to safe drinking water and in developed countries many people do not trust the safety of tap water. More than half of households in the United States are concerned about the quality of their water supply and only 55% of Europeans drink water directly from the tap.

Aquaporin’s technology could help. The company works with wastewater treatment companies – including BIOFOS, Denmark’s largest public wastewater treatment utility, and UTB Envirotec in Hungary – to remove micropollutants and microplastics from wastewater, preventing them from s ‘flow into the sea.

A study conducted at BIOFOS showed that aquaporins remove more than 95% of microplastics and micropollutants from wastewater, using much less energy than traditional systems.

“It has enormous potential,” says Dines Thornberg, BIOFOS chief innovation officer, who led the study. “I think the Aquaporin system could lead the way in creating clean and affordable drinking water from wastewater in the future. I am really optimistic that we can meet the challenges of water scarcity in many parts of the world with technologies like this.

Clean water at home

Jensen also spotted an opportunity to enter the domestic water purification market – a sector that could be worth $ 24 billion by 2025, according to one estimate.

Last month, Aquaporin A / S launched a home under-sink filtration system that works without electricity. The system costs 650 € and the company is currently targeting the European market. It plans to expand to the United States, then India and China within the next two years.

As production increases, its long-term goal is to provide an affordable product for areas under water stress. “I really believe we can make a difference,” says Jensen.

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