Specialists have demonstrated that it is conceivable to reap key atoms from pee, defecation and breathed out breath which can be repurposed into 3D printable plastics or supplements.
Space explorers can’t take a considerable measure of extra parts into space in light of the fact that each additional ounce adds to the cost of fuel expected to get away from Earth’s gravity
But in a project funded by Nasa, scientists at Clemson University in South Carolina have discovered that different strains of yeast can break down human waste into useful products.
One strain, when fed with urea from untreated urine and CO2 from exhaled breath produces omega-3 fatty acids which contribute to heart, eye and brain health. Another has been engineered to make polyester polymers.
Those polymers could then be used in a 3-D printer to generate new plastic parts. So if a tool was lost on a spacewalk, a new one could simply be printed from the molecules extracted from waste.
“If astronauts are going to make journeys that span several years, we’ll need to find a way to reuse and recycle everything they bring with them,” Dr Mark Blenner, of Clemson University.
“Atom economy will become really important. Having a biological system that astronauts can awaken from a dormant state to start producing what they need, when they need it, is the motivation for our project.”
Researchers are hoping the project will eventually allow astronauts to live for large amounts of time in space. Already Nasa and the European Space Agency are planning to establish bases on the Moon and further afield, but being in space for months or years at a time will require far more recycling of waste.
For now, the engineered yeast strains can produce only small amounts of polyesters or nutrients, but the scientists are working on boosting output.
They’re also looking into applications on Earth, in fish farming and human nutrition. For example, fish raised via aquaculture need to be given omega-3 fatty acid supplements, which could be produced by the team’s yeast strains.
The research was presented at the American Chemical Society’sannual meeting.