Turning urine into drinking water

My Aquaporin journey started back in spring 2019 when I visited Aquaporin's Headquarters on a company visit. Little did I know back then that I would end up spending an entire year there, collecting my urine and turning it into drinking water.

By Ingrid Helgeland, graduate from Aquaporin Academy

After the company visit, I knew I wanted to join Aquaporin Academy. I had previously touched upon the topic of membranes and had become fascinated by the opportunities of the processes. Aquaporin had a certain vibe to it which I instantly liked; it seemed like an extremely comfortable place to be, full of employees who enjoyed working there. After a year of being an Academy student, I can safely say this first-hand impression gets confirmed every day.

Enabling astronauts to drink their own pee

I started out joining the Academy as an intern, and later on, I decided to prolong my stay with a Master’s Thesis collaboration. Throughout my stay, I have been working on a project funded by the European Space Agency aiming at developing and optimizing a water recovery system to use in the Gateway – a new lunar space station currently under development. With this system, astronauts can clean and reuse their own urine as drinking water.

I focused on optimizing different parameters such as temperature and pH value in the water recovery system. The system consists of two membrane processes – forward osmosis and membrane distillation. Additionally, I introduced and optimized an ion exchange process.

By the end, the system showed quite good results with different analyses confirming that I had extracted clean water from urine – even too clean to drink without remineralizing. To me, it was quite fun to work on a project where the effect was visually apparent with the change from the yellow urine to the clear drinking water.

A valued member of the company

At Aquaporin, I had the opportunity to work very independently. Both when designing and executing my laboratory experiments, I was free to try out all the ideas I got along the way. However, being part of Aquaporin Academy is so much more than the academic part.

Joining the Academy also means being present at Aquaporin every day with all the other students and actively participating in the life there. It means joining group meetings, understanding how the company works, getting a grasp of all the ongoing projects, chatting with people by the coffee machine, attending social events, and I could go on. At Aquaporin you are not just a student, you are a valued member of the company, and you are welcomed with open arms.

Published on July 2021 in