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.

Explore further: New study offers novel insights into pathogen behavior

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Bacteria shed light on an important group of human proteins

Nov 19, 2007

A collaboration between researchers in Switzerland, the UK and France has led to the solution of the first crystal structure of a member of the Rhesus protein family and thereby shed new light on a group of proteins of great ...

Herschel satellite weighed and fuelled

Apr 22, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- About two weeks ago, Herschel was weighed to record its dry mass before the satellite was fuelled with 256 kg of liquid hydrazine. After switching it on to confirm normal function, engineers ...

Water purification unit generates its own energy

Jul 25, 2011

A new biological water purification facility developed by Siemens generates enough methane gas to power its own operations. It also produces much less sludge than conventional systems. The pilot facility for ...

Gas giant spacecraft all gassed up

Jul 08, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- The Juno spacecraft completed hydrazine fuel loading, oxidizer loading and final tank pressurizations this week, and now the complete propulsion system is ready for the trip to Jupiter. The ...

Recommended for you

Why does rotting food smell bad?

Dec 16, 2014

When food goes bad and starts to become pungent, it is most often due to the growth of spoilage microbes such as bacteria, yeasts and mold. Odors can come from two sources: chemicals that are released from ...

User comments : 14

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Isaacsname
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 ".
Tenche
5 / 5 (4) Oct 02, 2011
I think it's time to become a biochemist
GDM
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?
Jeddy_Mctedder
2 / 5 (4) Oct 02, 2011
next time someone says "piss off" you say..."too the moon!"
Sin_Amos
not rated yet Oct 02, 2011
"next time someone says "piss off" you say..."too the moon!"--perfect put!
TheGhostofOtto1923
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.
Humpty
2 / 5 (4) Oct 03, 2011
You mean dropping a lit match in my toilet will send me to the moon?
bredmond
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.
_nigmatic10
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.
Mabus
2.6 / 5 (5) Oct 03, 2011
Now I understand why the US Goverment has pissed on their space program!
LariAnn
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"!
TheGhostofOtto1923
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
gwrede
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.
Ricochet
not rated yet Oct 04, 2011
It may come in handy for that 100-year spaceship project...

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.