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Breadboard verification of a novel technology train to recycle nutrients and water from urine for human spaceflight

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Abstract
One of the major challenges for long-term Space exploration and habitation is the requirement of a regenerative life support system (RLSS) to provide food, water and oxygen for astronauts, since missions over long distances cannot rely on extensive resupply (Lasseur et al. 2010). Urine, one of the main waste streams in a RLSS, is an important water recovery target, since urine consists for more than 90% out of water, and water supply is responsible for over 90% of the mass of the life support consumables (Tamponnet et al. 1999). Additionally, urine presents the major flux of nitrogen in a RLSS and is rich in other macro- and micronutrients (Clauwaert et al. 2017). Currently, on board of the International Space Station (ISS), vapour compression distillation (VCD) is used to recover water from urine, yielding a water recovery percentage of only ~74%, while consuming hazardous and toxic chemicals (chromium trioxide and sulfuric acid) to prevent fouling, and requiring ~315 W (Carter 2009). Moreover, the VCD unit faces severe scaling problems due to uncontrolled calcium sulphate precipitation, which requires extensive maintenance, and the nutrients end up in a toxic brine, limiting nutrient recycling in the RLSS. Within the framework of MELiSSA (Micro-Ecological Life Support System Alternative), a breadboard installation has been developed to recover water and nutrients from urine, by combining biological and physicochemical unit processes. First, crystallization removed 93% of the calcium and 82% of the magnesium from the urine, safeguarding the downstream processes from scaling. Second, a moving bed biofilm reactor oxidized >90% of the organics (COD, chemical oxygen demand), preventing biofouling in the electrodialysis (ED) unit. In addition, >90% of total Kjeldahl nitrogen (mainly present as the uncharged molecule urea) was converted into nitrate by means of nitrification in order to stabilise the urine and to be able to capture the nitrogen in a non-volatile form in ED, avoiding the risk that ammonia volatilisation can pose to the crew. Third, ED was used to extract nutrients from the filtered (0.1 µm) effluent of the bioreactor. Approximately 70% of the nutrients were concentrated in 15% of the ED feed stream. The precipitates, rich in phosphorus, and the ED concentrate, rich in nitrogen and potassium, can be recovered as fertilizers for crop production. Due to nitrification, nitrogen is present in the ED concentrate as nitrate, which is, in most cases, the preferred nitrogen source for plants. The ED diluate is low in nutrients and salts, which makes it a suitable stream for water recovery through membrane filtration. This novel technology train opens up opportunities for efficient water and nutrient recovery from urine during long-term Space missions through smartly integrating chemical, biological and physical/electrical separation and conversion mechanisms. The testbed facility, sized for one crew member, has been successfully operated in a laboratory environment, corresponding to level 4 on the technology readiness level (TRL) scale. Implementation in Space, however, requires improvement of the long-term stability and performance, and adaptation to the Space conditions. Acknowledgements: The authors would like to acknowledge i) the Belgian Federal Science Policy Office (BELSPO) [grant-ID 4000109518/13/NL/JC, project title: Water Treatment Unit Breadboard, managed by ESA], ii) the MELiSSA Foundation to support JDP via the POMP1 (Pool Of MELiSSA PhD) program, iii) the Research Foundation Flanders (FWO, grant-ID: IWT130028, title: SBO BRANDING) and the Special Research Fund (BOF) Concerted Research Actions (GOA,BOF12/GOA/008) from the Flemish Government to support KDP, iv) IEC for building the installation, and v) Avecom and dr. Kai Udert from EAWAG for providing the ABIL sludge and the urine nitrification biomass, respectively. References: Carter, D.L. (2009) Status of the Regenerative ECLSS Water Recovery System, SAE International. Clauwaert, P., Muys, M., Alloul, A., De Paepe, J., Luther, A., Sun, X.Y., Ilgrande, C., Christiaens, M.E.R., Hu, X.N., Zhang, D.D., Lindeboom, R.E.F., Sas, B., Rabaey, K., Boon, N., Ronsse, F., Geelen, D. and Vlaeminck, S.E. (2017) Nitrogen cycling in Bioregenerative Life Support Systems: Challenges for waste refinery and food production processes. Progress in Aerospace Sciences 91, 87-98. Lasseur, C., Brunet, J., de Weever, H., Dixon, M., Dussap, G., Godia, F., Leys, N., Mergeay, M. and Van Der Straeten, D. (2010) MELiSSA: the European project of closed life support systems. Gravitational and Space Biology 23, 3-12. Tamponnet, C., Savage, C.J., Amblard, P., Lasserre, J.C., Personne, J.C. and Germain, J.C. (1999) Water recovery in space. ESA Bull 97(5), 56-60.
Keywords
urine, crystallisation, nitrification, electrodialysis

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Citation

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Chicago
De Paepe, Jolien, Ralph EF Lindeboom, Marjolein Vanoppen, Kim De Paepe, Wout Coessens, Dries Demey, Brigitte Lamaze, Arne Verliefde, Peter Clauwaert, and Siegfried Vlaeminck. 2018. “Breadboard Verification of a Novel Technology Train to Recycle Nutrients and Water from Urine for Human Spaceflight.” In COSPAR, 42nd Scientific Assembly, Abstracts. COSPAR (Committee on Space Research).
APA
De Paepe, J., Lindeboom, R. E., Vanoppen, M., De Paepe, K., Coessens, W., Demey, D., Lamaze, B., et al. (2018). Breadboard verification of a novel technology train to recycle nutrients and water from urine for human spaceflight. COSPAR, 42nd Scientific assembly, Abstracts. Presented at the 42nd COSPAR Scientific Assembly, COSPAR (Committee on Space Research).
Vancouver
1.
De Paepe J, Lindeboom RE, Vanoppen M, De Paepe K, Coessens W, Demey D, et al. Breadboard verification of a novel technology train to recycle nutrients and water from urine for human spaceflight. COSPAR, 42nd Scientific assembly, Abstracts. COSPAR (Committee on Space Research); 2018.
MLA
De Paepe, Jolien, Ralph EF Lindeboom, Marjolein Vanoppen, et al. “Breadboard Verification of a Novel Technology Train to Recycle Nutrients and Water from Urine for Human Spaceflight.” COSPAR, 42nd Scientific Assembly, Abstracts. COSPAR (Committee on Space Research), 2018. Print.
@inproceedings{8558668,
  abstract     = {One of the major challenges for long-term Space exploration and habitation is the requirement of a regenerative life support system (RLSS) to provide food, water and oxygen for astronauts, since missions over long distances cannot rely on extensive resupply (Lasseur et al. 2010). Urine, one of the main waste streams in a RLSS, is an important water recovery target, since urine consists for more than 90\% out of water, and water supply is responsible for over 90\% of the mass of the life support consumables (Tamponnet et al. 1999). Additionally, urine presents the major flux of nitrogen in a RLSS and is rich in other macro- and micronutrients (Clauwaert et al. 2017). Currently, on board of the International Space Station (ISS), vapour compression distillation (VCD) is used to recover water from urine, yielding a water recovery percentage of only {\texttildelow}74\%, while consuming hazardous and toxic chemicals (chromium trioxide and sulfuric acid) to prevent fouling, and requiring {\texttildelow}315 W (Carter 2009). Moreover, the VCD unit faces severe scaling problems due to uncontrolled calcium sulphate precipitation, which requires extensive maintenance, and the nutrients end up in a toxic brine, limiting nutrient recycling in the RLSS.
Within the framework of MELiSSA (Micro-Ecological Life Support System Alternative), a breadboard installation has been developed to recover water and nutrients from urine, by combining biological and physicochemical unit processes. First, crystallization removed 93\% of the calcium and 82\% of the magnesium from the urine, safeguarding the downstream processes from scaling. Second, a moving bed biofilm reactor oxidized {\textrangle}90\% of the organics (COD, chemical oxygen demand), preventing biofouling in the electrodialysis (ED) unit. In addition, {\textrangle}90\% of total Kjeldahl nitrogen (mainly present as the uncharged molecule urea) was converted into nitrate by means of nitrification in order to stabilise the urine and to be able to capture the nitrogen in a non-volatile form in ED, avoiding the risk that ammonia volatilisation can pose to the crew. Third, ED was used to extract nutrients from the filtered (0.1 {\textmu}m) effluent of the bioreactor. Approximately 70\% of the nutrients were concentrated in 15\% of the ED feed stream. The precipitates, rich in phosphorus, and the ED concentrate, rich in nitrogen and potassium, can be recovered as fertilizers for crop production. Due to nitrification, nitrogen is present in the ED concentrate as nitrate, which is, in most cases, the preferred nitrogen source for plants. The ED diluate is low in nutrients and salts, which makes it a suitable stream for water recovery through membrane filtration.
This novel technology train opens up opportunities for efficient water and nutrient recovery from urine during long-term Space missions through smartly integrating chemical, biological and physical/electrical separation and conversion mechanisms. The testbed facility, sized for one crew member, has been successfully operated in a laboratory environment, corresponding to level 4 on the technology readiness level (TRL) scale. Implementation in Space, however, requires improvement of the long-term stability and performance, and adaptation to the Space conditions. 

Acknowledgements:
The authors would like to acknowledge i) the Belgian Federal Science Policy Office (BELSPO) [grant-ID 4000109518/13/NL/JC, project title: Water Treatment Unit Breadboard, managed by ESA], ii) the MELiSSA Foundation to support JDP via the POMP1 (Pool Of MELiSSA PhD) program, iii) the Research Foundation Flanders (FWO, grant-ID: IWT130028, title: SBO BRANDING) and the Special Research Fund (BOF) Concerted Research Actions (GOA,BOF12/GOA/008) from the Flemish Government to support KDP, iv) IEC for building the installation, and v) Avecom and dr. Kai Udert from EAWAG for providing the ABIL sludge and the urine nitrification biomass, respectively.

References:
Carter, D.L. (2009) Status of the Regenerative ECLSS Water Recovery System, SAE International.
Clauwaert, P., Muys, M., Alloul, A., De Paepe, J., Luther, A., Sun, X.Y., Ilgrande, C., Christiaens, M.E.R., Hu, X.N., Zhang, D.D., Lindeboom, R.E.F., Sas, B., Rabaey, K., Boon, N., Ronsse, F., Geelen, D. and Vlaeminck, S.E. (2017) Nitrogen cycling in Bioregenerative Life Support Systems: Challenges for waste refinery and food production processes. Progress in Aerospace Sciences 91, 87-98.
Lasseur, C., Brunet, J., de Weever, H., Dixon, M., Dussap, G., Godia, F., Leys, N., Mergeay, M. and Van Der Straeten, D. (2010) MELiSSA: the European project of closed life support systems. Gravitational and Space Biology 23, 3-12.
Tamponnet, C., Savage, C.J., Amblard, P., Lasserre, J.C., Personne, J.C. and Germain, J.C. (1999) Water recovery in space. ESA Bull 97(5), 56-60.},
  author       = {De Paepe, Jolien and Lindeboom, Ralph EF and Vanoppen, Marjolein and De Paepe, Kim and Coessens, Wout and Demey, Dries and Lamaze, Brigitte and Verliefde, Arne and Clauwaert, Peter and Vlaeminck, Siegfried},
  booktitle    = {COSPAR, 42nd Scientific assembly, Abstracts},
  keyword      = {urine,crystallisation,nitrification,electrodialysis},
  language     = {eng},
  location     = {Pasadena, CA, USA},
  publisher    = {COSPAR (Committee on Space Research)},
  title        = {Breadboard verification of a novel technology train to recycle nutrients and water from urine for human spaceflight},
  year         = {2018},
}