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Belgian scientists make novel water-from-urine machine

Belgian scientist Derese drinks water from a machine that turns urine into drinkable water and fertilizer using solar energy, at the University of Ghent

A team of scientists at a Belgian university say they have created a machine that turns urine into drinkable water and fertiliser 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 fertiliser 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.

Belgian scientist Derese pours water from a machine that turns urine into drinkable water and fertilizer using solar energy, at the University of Ghent
Belgian scientist Derese pours water from a machine that turns urine into drinkable water and fertilizer using solar energy, at the University of Ghent

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

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 specialities – beer.

“We call it from sewer to brewer,” Derese said.

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