Wastewater Recovery a Common Challenge for Aerospace and Oil Industries

Source: Getty Images.

While wastewater reuse is an option for oil and gas operations, it is an imperative for space travel.

With payload weight at a premium, recycling is the only way to provide potable water for journeys longer than a few days, said Mark Jernigan, executive director of Rice Space Institute at Rice University and associate director, exploration systems development, human health and performance directorate at NASA’s Johnson Space Center (JSC).

“The desire for NASA is to reclaim water so we don’t have to bring so much,” said Jernigan, who spoke at a meeting of the SPE Gulf Coast Section’s Waste and Water Management Study Group.

The space agency has made a great deal of progress since its first manned spaceflight, which had no water recycling capabilities. The International Space Station, which has had at least one astronaut on board at all times since 2000, is now able to recycle 85% of its waste water.

NASA’s next step is to push the recovery rate to 100%, preferably enabled by a catalyst that could be reused. Improved water reclamation is one of the many research goals that will enable manned missions to Mars.

Just as the growth of hydraulic fracturing has forced oil and gas operators to deal with greater amounts of waste water and the economic and environmental issues surrounding it, so has the expansion of NASA’s human spaceflight program.

NASA’s Environmental Control and Life Support System engineers have produced complex filtering systems that conform to the tight specifications of the orbital environment. “On every spacecraft, we have to focus on maintaining low mass, volume, and power,” said Jernigan.

These operational constraints have given NASA extensive practice in wastewater recycling, and now the agency is looking to participate in technology transfer with industries outside of aerospace.

“We are embarking on a campaign called JSC 2.0 where we seek to synergize with other industries, and we realize we have a lot in common with the oil and gas industry,” Jernigan said.

Wastewater Recovery a Common Challenge for Aerospace and Oil Industries

Jack Betz, JPT Staff Writer

01 June 2015

Volume: 67 | Issue: 6

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