Mineral recovery from urine - an alternative approach for providing nutrients for primary production in a controlled ecological life support system for long-term space missions
PI: Robin Gerlach and Erika Espinosa-Ortiz, Montana State University Chemical and Biological Engineering
In space exploration, the carrying capacity of the spacecraft, the availability of life-sustaining materials and the number of crewmembers continue to be limiting factors for long-term space missions. Research efforts have focused on the development of Bioregenerative Life Support Systems (BLSSs) based on the integration of regenerative biological modules to resemble ecosystems designed to supply water and food, provide adequate air conditions (oxygen -O2- production and carbon dioxide -CO2- removal) and allow the reuse of waste for long-term spaceflights. Primary producers (e.g. plants and algae) have been incorporated in BLSSs due to their potential to revitalize the atmosphere while producing edible biomass. However, the cultivation of primary producers is limited by the availability and quality of nutrient sources during space missions. In situ reutilization of resources (e.g. nutrients contained in urine) available during space missions would help minimize the cost and risk of long-term spaceflights. This project will explore the use of minerals recovered from urine (through a biological process) as nutrient source for the cultivation of primary producers, and the potential for water reclamation from the treated urine. Through a comprehensive and synergistic approach for technology integration with already existing modules for life support systems, this project will generate preliminary data necessary to develop systems that: (i) promote in situ resource utilization in spacecraft, (ii) provide alternative nutrient sources for algal/plant cultivation, (iii) potentially allow for utilization and treatment of urine during spaceflights, and (iv) provide adequate air conditions by regenerating O2 and scavenging CO2.