Belgian scientists make novel water-from-urine machine

Wed Jul 27, 2016 12:05pm EDT
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BRUSSELS (Reuters) - A team of scientists at a Belgian university say they have created a machine that turns urine into drinkable water and fertilizer using solar energy, a technique which could be applied in rural areas and developing countries.

While there are other options for treating waste water, the system applied at the University of Ghent uses a special membrane, is said to be energy-efficient and to be applicable in areas off the electricity grid.

"We're able to recover fertilizer and drinking water from urine using just a simple process and solar energy," said University of Ghent researcher Sebastiaan Derese.

The urine is collected in a big tank, heated in a solar-powered boiler before passing through the membrane where the water is recovered and nutrients such as potassium, nitrogen and phosphorus are separated.

Under the slogan #peeforscience, the team recently deployed the machine at a 10-day music and theater festival in central Ghent, recovering 1,000 liters of water from the urine of revelers.

The aim is to install larger versions of the machine in sports venues or airports but also to take it to a rural community in the developing world where fertilisers and reliable drinking water are short in supply, Derese said.

As was the case with previous projects the research team was engaged in, the water recovered from the city festival will be used to make one of Belgium's most coveted specialties - beer.

"We call it from sewer to brewer," Derese said.

(Reporting by Robert-Jan Bartunek; editing by Philip Blenkinsop/Jermey Gaunt)

Belgian scientist Sebastiaan Derese drinks water from a machine that turns urine into drinkable water and fertilizer using solar energy, at the University of Ghent, Belgium, July 26, 2016. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir