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USF technology gets a trial run with NASA

Margie Manning

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Daniel Yeh (left) and the University of South Florida team working on the Organic Processor Assembly.

A University of South Florida professor has collaborated with NASA on a system that converts human waste to fertilizer and water and would allow astronauts to grow fresh vegetables in space.

It could help establish a permanent presence on the moon, a news release said.

The Organic Processor Assembly, developed by Daniel Yeh, a civil and environmental engineering professor at USF, is being sent to Kennedy Space Center next week to test its effectiveness under simulated space mission conditions. NASA is expected to decide if the technology will be sent to the moon over the next two to three years, the news release said.

A second unit of the Organic Processor Assembly will remain at USF for further testing.

The Organic Process Assembly is a closed system the size of a miniature fridge. It automatically extracts nutrients directly from the toilet and use some of the same principles as an earlier innovation from Yeh, a NEWGenerator resource recovery machine that  converts human waste into clean water, energy and fertilizer, and is currently being used in India and South Africa.

“Over the years, our team has gotten pretty good at coming up with technologies that work well on Earth,” Yeh said in the news release. “Developing resource recovery solutions for space was something new. It presented a whole new series of design challenges to overcome, such as those related to mass, volume, modularity and reduced gravity.”

The Organic Processor Assembly is a collaboration between USF and NASA.

Astronauts aboard the International Space Station have grown small amounts of produce, such as lettuce, cabbage and kale, since 2014 through the Vegetable Production System. The Organic Processor Assembly would eliminate the need to transport fertilizer and allow astronauts to grow more vegetables in space to supplement their diets and give them a taste of home.

Yeh has received more than $340,000 in grant funding from NASA, including a seed grant in 2018 that allowed him to develop a prototype for the Organic Processor Assembly. A patent has also been issued and other patents are pending, the news release said.

Yeh, Roberson, USF graduate student Talon Bullard and former USF postdoc Melanie Pickett won the Kennedy Space Center’s 2020 Sustainable Environmental Awareness Award earlier this year.

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