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.
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