Sunday, March 7, 2021

A bio-filter designed for astronaut urine may be the answer to clean water on Earth

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Last month marked 20 years of continuous human presence on the orbiting International Space Station (ISS).

During that time, scientific research to improve life aboard the ISS has also brought many benefits to people back on Earth.

Now, a company that designed a water-purification system for the ISS is developing spin-off technologies with the potential to provide clean drinking water in places that need it most, reports CNN Business.

On the ISS, every drop of moisture, from humidity to urine, must be filtered and reused. The current system that does so is heavy and must be replaced every 90 days. Even then it fails to filter out some contaminants, according to Nasa.

Danish company Aquaporin A/S has developed a new filter system that uses proteins called aquaporins. “It’s the same mechanism that allows water to cross the cell membrane of living cells but blocks contaminants,” says CEO Peter Jensen.

In nature, these aquaporin proteins allow plant roots to absorb water from soil without taking in dirt. They also enable the human kidneys to filter about 45 gallons of fluid per day, preventing contaminants from passing through.

Having tested Aquaporin’s biological system in space, Nasa is considering replacing its current system with it, but the technology is also finding uses all around the world.

Over two billion people worldwide have no access to clean drinking water, and in developed countries many people don’t trust the safety of domestic tap water. Only around half of all households in Europe and the US drink water directly from the tap.

Jensen is planning to enter the domestic water purification market – a sector worth billions.

Last month, Aquaporin A/S launched an under-the-sink household filtration system that works without electricity.

The company is currently targeting the European market and plans to expand to the US and then India and China in the next two years.

“It has enormous potential,” says Dines Thornberg of Biofos, Denmark’s largest state-owned wastewater utility. “The Aquaporin system could lead the way in actually creating clean, affordable drinking water from wastewater in the future.”

As production increases, Aquaporin’s long-term goal is to offer an affordable and pure product for water-stressed regions.

“I really believe that we can make a difference,” says Jensen.

Even better for the environment, Aquaporin is working with wastewater companies like Biofos, to remove micropollutants and microplastics from wastewater, preventing them from flowing into the sea.

A study conducted at Biofos showed that aquaporins remove over 95% of microplastics and micropollutants in wastewater, and use much less energy than traditional systems.

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