Belgian scientists invent machine that turns pee into drinking water

Belgian researchers have invented a machine that turns human pee into drinkable water.

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The machine doesn’t require electricity and can be used off the grid. So how does it work? Basically, it collects urine in a big tank where it’s heated in a solar-powered boiler and passed through a membrane that retrieves the drinkable water.

“We’re able to recover urine…just in a simple process without having to use very hi-tech technology, just using solar energy,” Sebastiaan Derese, researcher at the University of Ghent told Reuters.

It all started when the group of researchers at the University of Ghent wanted to find a creative way to recover resources.

“A lot of nutrients are increasingly depleted. So for that we decided it was important. In fact, urine itself is a very rich source of nutrients. So we decided to start from there,” Arne Verliefde, a professor at the university told Global News.

So the quest to invent a machine that can recover nutrients from urine started.

The team started testing out different ways they can filter out nutrients such as potassium, nitrogen and phosphorous, which can then be used to make fertilizers. They made the machine with their own hands and ordered a few parts from around the world. It cost a few thousand euros to make and roughly two months to complete, Verliefde said.

“It doesn’t look fancy but it does the job,” he added.

In constructing the machine, they then discovered they could also turn the pee into water. And that’s when they had the idea of using that water to also brew beer.

“We are planning on brewing a beer from it, so there is a project here in Ghent, which is called ‘sewer to brewer,’” Derese said.

Using the slogan #peeforscience, the team recently used their prototype machine at a music festival in Ghent. They recovered 1,000 litres of water from the urine of festival-goers.

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They hope to introduce the machine to developing countries and rural communities, where water and fertilizer are in short supply.

“We’re talking to potential investors.  The idea is to bring it to developing countries at the lowest price possible – hoping to get it down to a few hundred euros to make it accessible to farmers,” Verliefde said.