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Catalysts designed by scientists at the University of Alicante have been successfully tested at NASA

They allow the recovery of water and the retrieval of energy from physiological waste, especially urine,  generated by astronauts



UA researchers during their stay at NASA Johnson Space Center



Alicante. Monday, 30 November 2015


From the laboratories of the University of Alicante to NASA Johnson Space Center, located in Houston (USA), to perform experiments in microgravity. This was a successful challenge carried out by researchers at the University of Alicante Institute of Electrochemistry José Solla-Gullón and Francisco José Vidal, as well as doctoral student Roberto Martínez . Their goal is to test the efficiency of the catalysts designed in the UA "with the idea of using them in space stations for the treatment of human liquid waste" they explain.

Initially, they planned to make four parabolic flights on a plane specially prepared to provide a range of about 15-20 seconds in weightlessness, but due to technical problems, they have only been able to perform one of the flights. During that flight, scientists have conducted experiments with ammonia oxidation with platinum electrocatalysts that are applied in the field of water recovery and energy retrieval from physiological waste, particularly urine, generated by astronauts.  

The catalyst consists of a microscopic structure made up by platinum nanocubes, small polyhedral shapes with a size of 10 nanometers (0.00000001 metres. What it does is converting ammonia into nitrogen (N2), a gas that is easily removed using a electrochemical oxidation process in which electrons are generated, which can be also used as a source of energy for feeding any board instrumentation.  

"On the crest of the flight parabola, we have been able to see how weightlessness affects the behaviour of our catalysts for the oxidation of ammonia process. Early results have been promising”, they explain.  

This type of test, in which the aircraft rises at high speed and falls steeply, are common in space agencies to conduct various experiments in microgravity and to train astronauts. "Exactly as we have already confirmed gravidity conditions in the laboratory, these catalysts have shown much better performance than those tested so far", José Solla-Gullón, Francisco José Vidal and Roberto Martinez said.   

From 8 to 16 January, these UA chemists will return to Johnson Space Center in Houston for four new outings. After completion of the tests, the results will be evaluated by NASA, who must decide whether the prototype is tailored to the specific needs for possible future missions or, in the short term, to the International Space Station (ISS)


Related article:

Researchers at the University of Alicante will carry out experiments in microgravity at NASA 



  Francisco José Vidal and Roberto Martínez during a parabolic flight 



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