Pee power: Urine-loving bug churns out space fuel

Oct 02, 2011

Scientists on Sunday said they had gained insights into a remarkable bacterium that lives without oxygen and transforms ammonium, the ingredient of urine, into hydrazine, a rocket fuel.

So-called anammox -- for anaerobic oxidation -- germs caused a sensation when they were first identified in the 1990s, but uncovering their secrets is taking time.

In a letter published by the British science journal Nature, researchers at Radboud University Nijmegen in the Netherlands reported they had identified the by which the bugs do their fuel-trick.

"Proving this was quite a feat," said Mike Jetten, professor of microbiology at the university's Institute for Water and Wetland Research.

"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."

The team's work initially piqued NASA's interest, but this faded when the US space agency learned that only small quantities of precious hydrazine are produced, "nothing like enough to get a rocket to Mars," said Jetten.

"Now we are accurately determining the 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 now used commercially in water purification because it is so energy-efficient in breaking down ammonia.

It also has potential applications as a biofuel, cleaning up sewerage sludge without the need for pumps to provide air, and providing methane in return.

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User comments : 14

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4.7 / 5 (6) Oct 02, 2011
Stuck in space ? Out of hydrazine ?

Don't fret, urine luck my friend.

On a serious note, this could be pretty useful on Mars.
Funny side note, in WW2, Germany used hydrazine as a propellant and tossed the byproducts from manufacture whilst Britain threw away their byproducts from manufacturing their own propellant, ..hydrazine being the main byproduct, and the waste products from Germany were the same ones Britain was trying to produce.

From the book " Mushrooms, molds, and miracles ".
5 / 5 (4) Oct 02, 2011
I think it's time to become a biochemist
not rated yet Oct 02, 2011
How much is actually produced? If the process could be applied to waste trestment plants, would that be enough to make usable fuel supplies?
2 / 5 (4) Oct 02, 2011
next time someone says "piss off" you say..."too the moon!"
not rated yet Oct 02, 2011
"next time someone says "piss off" you say..."too the moon!"--perfect put!
2.1 / 5 (7) Oct 02, 2011
Yes I think it is obvious that to explore the solar system you are going to need a lot of beer.
2 / 5 (4) Oct 03, 2011
You mean dropping a lit match in my toilet will send me to the moon?
5 / 5 (1) Oct 03, 2011
This reminds me of my futurist dream. I envision a world where individual homes have the ability to sustain themselves. With an appliance that can both sanitize water and generate power we could well, you can imagine the benefit. In any case, is the rocket fuel enough to power my home? can we combine this with other technoligies to be more effective? (i.e. a septic furnace, more efficient appliances/lightbulbs, etc.) Nah, I guess it is too hard to install in existing homes.
3 / 5 (2) Oct 03, 2011
You mean dropping a lit match in my toilet will send me to the moon?

To some, the match would be the only thing preventing them from being sent to the moon.
2.6 / 5 (5) Oct 03, 2011
Now I understand why the US Goverment has pissed on their space program!
2 / 5 (4) Oct 03, 2011
IMHO, if the amount of hydrazine produced by those hard-working microbes is so small that NASA lost interest, then those "urine-loving bugs" are hardly "churning out space fuel"!
1 / 5 (4) Oct 03, 2011
You mean dropping a lit match in my toilet will send me to the moon?
You dont buy hydrazine you just rent it
1 / 5 (2) Oct 03, 2011
Sad to say, but there's not enough urine in pee to take anybody anywhere. It's mostly water. And if you've been drinking, it's totally water, as opposed to hang-over pee, which is yellow and contains a little more urine.

But as a scifi concept, actyally "making rocket fuel out of your pee" is just cool. They should have included it in the original StarWars flick.
not rated yet Oct 04, 2011
It may come in handy for that 100-year spaceship project...

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