October 4, 2011
Cat Urine To Power Space Travel?
Will our next generation of space travel be powered by cat urine? Researchers from Radboud University Nijmegen in the Netherlands released a study which details the work of a particular bacterium that turns the smelly contents of your cat box (or any other type of urine) into space fuel, AFP is reporting.
The results of the scientists´ work show that the bacterium anammox, first identified in the 1990´s, thrives in the absence of oxygen and transforms ammonium, the ingredient of urine, into hydrazine, a rocket fuel.
Mike Jetten, professor of microbiology at the university´s Institute for Water and Wetland Research explains, “Proving this was quite a feat. We had to deploy a range of new experimental methods. In the end, we managed to isolate the protein complex responsible for hydrazine production, a beautifully red mixture.”
NASA showed some interest at first but this faded when the space agency learned that the amounts produced were not cost effective, “nothing like enough to get a rocket to Mars,” said Jetten.
“Now we are accurately determining the crystal structure of the protein complex. Perhaps we can improve the production process if we have a better understanding of how the protein complex fits together.”
Anammox is however used commercially for water purification because it is so energy-efficient in breaking down ammonia. It still has potential as a biofuel, in that it cleans sewerage sludge with no need for pumps to provide air, and provides methane in return.
Results of the study are outlined in the journal Nature.
On the Net: