ESA Technology Transfer Success Story - Cities as Spaceships: The circular resource economy

ESA Technology Transfer Success Story - Cities as Spaceships: The circular resource economy [Oct/2021]

The wastewater of major cities is rich on nutrients and abundantly available. SEMiLLA IPStar and ESA are cooperating to tab into this resource by creating a water recycling system based on the circular life support MELiSSA (Micro-Ecological Life Support System Alternative) of the ISS. The technology transfer of MELiSSA technology for terrestrial use aims to create a self-sustaining waste management system in urban areas to support city inhabitants with the recovery of nutrients and clean water. The approach goes hand in hand with a further SEMiLLA project, the SEMiLLA Sanitation. Hereby, public urinals are equipped with distillation technology to restore nutrients.

A first pilot study for the recycling of urban waste was introduced in the municipally of Amsterdam. This will support Amsterdam to be a sustainable and circular city by 2050. Hereby, 600 000 tonnes CO2 are saved (3% of Amsterdam city total), 80-90% of wastewater can be reused as clean water for plant production in Amsterdam (generating daily 2kg of vegetables per person), and, at the same time, the used raceway reactor is 10x less expensive than its existing counterparts. As a result, food waste is reduced, the city receives economic benefits of 600m, and 1200 new jobs are created within the next 5-7 years.

Besides the economic upsides, the implications for environmental and sustainability goals are substantial. Urban areas have a worldwide natural resource consumption of 75% and a production of 50% of the waste. With a predicted rural escape to increase in the upcoming decades, the challenge of clean and circular cities is more pressing than ever. An extension of the technology directly contributes to five of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals:

  • Zero Hunger
  • Clean Water and Sanitation
  • Sustainable Cities and Communities
  • Responsible Consumption and Production
  • Climate Action

This initiative is led by ESA's Technology Transfer and Patent Management Unit (TTPO) in ESA's Directorate for Commercialisation, Industry & Procurement. The Unit is guiding start-ups, entrepreneurs and European businesses in developing spin-offs for ESA's space technologies. More recent successful transfers can be accessed at: Technology Transfer - Funded Projects. For more information, please contact

The full Case Study report can be found in the restricted area here (please log in before).

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