In the Glorious Future, Could Space Travel Be Poop-Powered?

By Jennifer Welsh | November 18, 2010 12:04 pm

PoopSatSince we’re experimenting with using human excrement to power all kinds of things on earth, from buses and cars to natural gas for our homes, why not try renewable poop power in space?

That’s the mission adopted by a team at the Florida Institute of Technology–they hope to bring the flexibility and sustainability of poop power to space. As a first step towards that goal, they’re testing the ability of a special hydrogen-creating bacteria, called Shewanella MR-1, to live aboard a UN satellite, says Fast Company:

The goal is, to put it bluntly, to see if Shewanella can convert astronaut feces into hydrogen for use in onboard fuel cells. “The bacteria generates hydrogen. If we give waste to bacteria, it converts to hydrogen that could be used in a fuel cell. We’re looking at how reliable the bacteria are,” explains Donald Platt, the Program Director for the Space Sciences and Space Systems Program at the Florida Institute of Technology.

The bacteria will be going up on the UN’s first satellite, a $5 million project by the UN’s Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) that will stay in space for five years. The satellite is scheduled for launch in the first half of 2011. If the bacteria are able to successfully grow in space, this project might lead the way to recycling the astronaut waste of the future, instead of freeze drying the excrement and turning it into a shooting star.

Related content:
Discoblog: Is Muskrat Poop the Next Penicillin?
Discoblog: “CSI: Dog Poop” Comes to Israel
Discoblog: Could Poop Fuel Our Future? New Sewage-Powered Buses Hint at Yes
Discoblog: This Poop Mobile Could Get All Its Energy From 70 Homes’ Worth of Methane
80beats: Thrifty Brits Make Natural Gas out of Sewage and Beer-Brewing Leftovers
80beats: Meet the Genetically Engineered Pig With Earth-Friendly Poop
80beats: New Plasma Thruster Powers a Coke Can Rocket—and Could Power Satellites

Image: UNESCO

  • Edwin Dean

    Wouldn’t it be simpler to run a fuel cell on methane? There are a LOT of bacteria that produce methane from fecal matter.

    On the other appendage, hydrogen fuel cells produce distilled water as their exhaust, which can immediately be routed into the vessel’s life-support system.

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