Water recycling for monks and astronauts awarded Dutch innovation prize
21 December 2018
For over 25 years ESA has been working on an endless waste-recycling system to provide a self-sustaining ecosystem for humans in space. While we are not there yet, the technology developed to date is having immediate benefits for building a more sustainable planet – including at the La Trappe Abbey brewery in the Netherlands.
When the monks from La Trappe Abbey brewery wanted to make their beer-brewing process more sustainable, they chose the suite of techniques developed for spaceflight to renovate their factory and recycle more water. Upon its completion in 2019, the system should reduce the amount of water used to brew their beer by 80%.
The brewery produces almost a million cubic meters of waste water each year. Thanks to the new recycling techniques this water will no longer be sent to a municipal processing plant but used to irrigate the monks’ land and clean beer bottles.
The system will recover water and purify it using membranes before employing photobioreactors to add nitrogen to the water. Around 3000 species of bacteria and organisms, including plants, will be used to purify the water. The system will also reduce the brewery’s electricity use.
“In this case we applied our expertise and technological developments in a factory, but they could just as easily be incorporated into a hotel or other operation” says Christophe Lasseur, of ESA’s Life Support and Physical Sciences Instrumentation Section.
Using chemistry, biology and mechanical innovations, ESA’s micro-ecological life support system alternative (MELiSSA) programme’s research has already helped purify water in Morocco and developed bioreactors to grow new drugs. It has been recycling water in Antarctica for half a decade and a pilot project in Barcelona, Spain, is testing the system to the max with a fully closed, self-sustainable ecosystem for mice.
Provided funding by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme, the project at La Trappe has been awarded the innovation prize of 2018 by the Dutch councils of municipal water.