A five-stage treatment train for water recovery from urine and shower water for long-term human Space missions

R. E.F. Lindeboom*, J. De Paepe, M. Vanoppen, B. Alonso-Fariñas, W. Coessens, A. Alloul, M. E.R. Christiaens, C. Dotremont, H. Beckers, B. Lamaze, D. Demey, P. Clauwaert, A. R.D. Verliefde, S. E. Vlaeminck

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)
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Long-term human Space missions will rely on regenerative life support as resupply of water, oxygen and food comes with constraints. The International Space Station (ISS) relies on an evaporation/condensation system to recover 74–85% of the water in urine, yet suffers from repetitive scaling and biofouling while employing hazardous chemicals. In this study, an alternative non-sanitary five-stage treatment train for one “astronaut” was integrated through a sophisticated monitoring and control system. This so-called Water Treatment Unit Breadboard (WTUB) successfully treated urine (1.2-L-d−1) with crystallisation, COD-removal, ammonification, nitrification and electrodialysis, before it was mixed with shower water (3.4-L-d−1). Subsequently, ceramic nanofiltration and single-pass flat-sheet RO were used. A four-months proof-of-concept period yielded: (i) chemical water quality meeting the hygienic standards of the European Space Agency, (ii) a 87-±-5% permeate recovery with an estimated theoretical primary energy requirement of 0.2-kWhp-L−1, (iii) reduced scaling potential without anti-scalant addition and (iv) and a significant biological reduction in biofouling potential resulted in stable but biofouling-limited RO permeability of 0.5 L-m−2-h−1-bar−1. Estimated mass breakeven dates and a comparison with the ISS Water Recovery System for a hypothetical Mars transit mission show that WTUB is a promising biological membrane-based alternative to heat-based systems for manned Space missions.

Original languageEnglish
Article number114634
Pages (from-to)1-9
Number of pages9
Publication statusPublished - 2020


  • ESA
  • ISS
  • Resource recovery
  • Vapor compression distillation
  • Water reuse


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