If you think this is water, urine for a surprise.

If you think this is water, urine for a surprise.     Photo: 1971yes/Thinkstock

Astronauts to Recycle Urine for Drinking

Just in case of Tang shortage

You know the saying "if it's yellow, let it mellow," right?

Environmentalists use it as a rallying cry to conserve water, pledging not to flush solely liquid waste. But what if we could actually recycle urine? Scientists think they might have found a way to do just that—and their plan to test it is literally out of this world.

Urine recycling has emerged to remedy one of the messier aspects of space travel. As we watch majestic YouTube videos of astronauts performing David Bowie tunes, we easily forget the brass tacks of space travel, one of which is the collection and disposal of waste. NASA already engineers its spacecraft and missions for maximum efficiency, but it's always looking for ways to improve.

That's where urine recycling comes in. In a new report published in the journal ACS Sustainable Chemistry & Engineering, scientists analyze a fix that could kill two birds with one stone. Using a treatment process called forward osmosis, astronauts could purify their urine—previously jettisoned into space—into water, which usually has to be delivered from Earth at a high price.

Drinking water from urine isn't the only thing these scientists have up their sleeves. The system they developed to separate urea from urine converts the substance to ammonia and then into energy.

Although the procedure was designed with space travel in mind, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to see how a technique to convert urine into energy and clean drinking water could drastically change life back here on Earth. So, you're on notice, Al Gore: Start working on a new slogan to describe this convenient truth.


Walmart Organic News OutsideOnline

The Wild Oats brand will add 100 new organic products to packaged foods line.    

Walmart's Organic Takeover

Wild Oats brand expanding

Walmart announced today that it will expand its organic food line under the Wild Oats brand at a price point some 25 percent less than its competitors.

Beginning with a concentrated launch in 2,000 stores over the coming months, the existing Wild Oats brand will become more than 90 percent organic. The grocery giant's move will likely raise prices on organics for the immediate future. However, a substantial increase in organic production, distribution, and supply is ultimately expected to lower prices across the country. Time will tell if other conventional grocers will have to lower prices to adjust.

Sparking the new initiative, Walmart's internal research found that 91 percent of its customers would buy organic foods if they were affordable. Jumping on the bandwagon, Target also announced earlier this week that it would expand organic offerings as well.

"Younger people are much more interested in the chemistry of their lives, and so for them the issue of pesticides is a troubling one," Lynn Clarkson, founder of Clarkson Grain, told the New York Times.

To keep prices down, Walmart aims to take out the middlemen and strike long-term deals with farmers to create a direct supply chain.


OutsideOnline; spider, silk, broken bones

This friendly fellow may one day greet you at the ER.     Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Spiders Could Fix Your Broken Bones

Study says silk screws are superior

Broken bones and compound fractures often lead to the insertion of metal plates and screws, a painful process that requires two surgeries and carries the risk of infection and swelling. Fortunately, a better alternative might be on the horizon, courtesy of our good friend the spider.

A paper published in Nature Communications outlines plans for bone screws made not from steel but from silk, the very same kind produced by spiders and silkworms. Rather than opening you up and ushering the critters inside to do their work—a nightmare scenario that should be reserved for history's greatest villains—the silk is harvested and concentrated, forming a substance that, ounce for ounce, is stronger than steel.

In addition to being stronger than their steel brethren, silk screws can conform to fit the repair site and carry a lower risk of infection and inflammation. The only problem is harvesting the stuff.

Spiders tend to kill and eat each other when kept in large numbers, and they don't produce silk at a constant rate. Companies looking to take advantage of spider silk for everything from construction to cosmetics are searching for alternative methods of gathering the prized material. One possibility is through bacteria. AMSilk, a German firm, has found a way to manufacture silk protein using modified E. coli bacterium. Silk genes are inserted into the bacteria, which alters its growth process so the bacteria begins to grow spider silk protein instead.

Meanwhile, Randy Lewis, a biology professor at Utah State University, has begun using genetically modified goats that produce spider silk protein in their milk. "The goats produce the protein when they are lactating," says Lewis. "We purify the proteins from the milk, dry it down, reconstitute it up, and get the material we can spin into fibers." The university is currently planning to move Lewis's operation into a new 70,000-square-foot facility.

The future is now, people.


Photo: Grayson Schaffer

Armstrong Names Drug Providers

First details since "Doprah" show

During testimony for a lawsuit against Lance Armstrong by the Acceptance Insurance Company in November, the cyclist cited people involved with his doping practices to investigators. The names were released Wednesday—his first publicly revealed answers under oath since his confession to Oprah Winfrey in January 2013.

According to the testimony, Armstrong's longtime sport director, Johan Bruyneel, "participated in or assisted with Armstrong's use of PEDs, and knew of that use through their conversations and acts." Bruyneel was not named in Armstrong's confession to Oprah Winfrey in January 2013. 

Armstrong also named those who were involved with blood transfusions to bolster oxygen levels in his blood and those who assisted in the delivery of the drugs, VeloNews.com reports. Four men, all part of his cycling entourage, provided Armstrong with performance-enhancing drugs: trainer Pepe Marti, Dr. Pedro Celaya, Dr. Luis del Moral, and Dr. Michele Ferrari.

During Armstrong's career from 1995 to 2010, former U.S. Postal team soigneur Emma O'Reilly delivered him drugs and supplies. Bike mechanics Julien de Vriese and Philippe Maire were also named.

Armstrong also revealed that team manager Mark Gorski, a gold medalist at the 1984 Summer Olympics, along with Armstrong's coach and former pro Chris Carmichael, were aware of his use of PEDs, USA Today reports. Carmichael knew as early as 1995.


electricity pylons     Photo: Getty Images/iStockphoto

These Drones Charge Themselves

Without having to land

Prepare yourself for fixed-wing drones that never have to touch the ground again after takeoff.

MIT genius Joseph Moore is creating an unmanned aerial vehicle that can alight on power lines to recharge its batteries. It would never have to land.

According to PhD candidate Moore, a drone with a magnetometer should effectively be able to "see" the magnetic fields emitted by power lines. It could then fly toward the source and perch on the line, just like an overgrown, electronic bird.

The technology could enable UAVs to travel almost unlimited distances, making Amazon's drone delivery program much more plausible, but there's no word yet on when this system will become a reality for commercial use.


sriracha sriracha sriracha sriracha sriracha sriracha sriracha sriracha sriracha factory shutdown irwindale lawsuit city judge injuction partial hoarding california factory

Photo: Swanksalot/Flickr

Sriracha Factory Still Stinks

City lashes at "public nuisance"

Sriracha producer Huy Fong Foods can't catch a break. The company's Irwindale, California, factory is once again in hot water with the town's city council, which yesterday voted unanimously to declare the facility a public nuisance. 

Irwindale residents say fumes produced while creating the spicy condiment, famous for putting hot sauce junkies satisfactorily in tears, put them in pain too—involuntarily. The list of complaints is extensive, including irritated eyes and throats, headaches, heartburn, nosebleeds, and an objectionably pungent odor.

The council plans to adopt an official resolution soon, after which Huy Fong Foods will have 90 days to stem odor issues. Air quality tests by the South Coast Air Quality Management District have concluded that carbon filters could solve Huy Fong Foods' odor problems, and the company says it expects to fix the problem by June 1.

Although Irwindale has many bones to pick with Huy Fong Foods, Councilman Albert Ambriz told the Los Angeles Times that the town doesn't want the wildly successful company to leave.

"I respect the fact that they are here. But they know there's a problem and it needs to be fixed," Ambriz said.

Should Huy Fong Foods miss the 90-day deadline, the council declared its right to enter the factory and implement (potentially costly) change itself. Huy Fong Foods' attorney John Tate smells a rat. 

"The city council is determined to assert its authority regardless of the status of the odor remediation efforts," Tate said.

Problems in Irwindale began in October, when the town filed a suit in Los Angeles Superior Court against the company for the exact same reasons. The suit led to a partial shutdown of the 655,000-square-foot plant in November, but fume-correlated health problems and hundred-person protests continued. The council's vote this week was meant to underscore the residents' discontent, and a preliminary injunction and trial is scheduled for November 2014.

Many find Sriracha hard to quit, but if you're interested in trying something new, there are plenty of alternative hot sauces that bring the pain but not the court orders.


OutsideOnline endangered Southwest American hot climate change

The Sonoran desert tortoise just made the International Union for the Conservation of Nature's endangered species list.     Photo: Aaron Shurts/Flickr

Thriving and Dying in a Hotter Southwest

Birds and reptiles feel the burn

U.S. Geological Survey scientists found that the climate change predicted for the American Southwest during the next 60 to 90 years might drastically alter the breeding range of native bird and reptile populations.

Northern Arizona University scientists modeled the projected change here—with an almost 20 percent drop in precipitation said to hit the species from now until 2099.

Among those thriving as the Southwest starts cooking is the Sonoran desert tortoise. Reclassified to differentiate the ancient desert species from his Mojave Desert cousin, the tortoise should remain where it is if "the dogs" stay away. Human networks and invasive dog species—not climate change—threaten the tortoise, now classified by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature as vulnerable to extinction.

Black-throated sparrow.   Photo: Getty Images/iStockphoto/MikeLan

Thriving: Black-throated sparrows live where creosote bushes grow. They should see a breeding range increase of 34 to 47 percent. The gray vireo (another dry-heat bird) should see a 58 to 71 percent spike.

Here's who's thrashing:

Sage thrasher.   Photo: Derek Bakken/Flickr

Topping the list, the sage thrasher's breeding range is projected to decrease by 78 percent.

Other notables: The pygmy nuthatch is projected to see a 75 to 81 percent decrease in range, 32 to 46 percent for the Arizona black rattlesnake, and 42 percent for the plateau striped whiptail lizard.

Plateau striped whiptail.   Photo: newfocus/Flickr