Microbial Factories in Space -a Sustainable Materials Concept. HSLU, ESA Astrium, Inspire
The exploration of space on, with travel to distant planets and unmanned missions outside our solar system, requires manufacturing new components and spacecraft on space stations far from Earth. Our interest is in the production and recycling of various bioproducts, produced with biochemicals synthesized from microogranisms, particularly algae and yeast. Development of bioreactors to grow cell cultures with the biochemical composition to produce fuels, plastics, carbon fiber, bioconcrete adhesives, enzymes, metals, food and other materials will provide large amounts of resources need in space.
In order to optimize the growth and biochemistry of microbial cultures in space, we are studying how cells and bioreactor systems are effected by microgravity and cosmic radiation. Bioreactor designs can be optimized to influence, cellular lipid (fat), carbohydrate, and protein content, as well as nutrient uptake rates, settling velocities and overall productivity.
The Algae Technology Group
The algae Techology Group is a part of the Competence Center (CC) Bioscience and Medical Engineering (BME) at the University of Lucerne and a member of the European Algal Biomass Association (EABA). The group specializes in biophysical interactions, reactor kinetics and modeling, chemistry and biotechnology. The focus is on advancing biological, chemical, and physical aspects of micobial bioreactor systems and to apply this technology to commercialization of microbial factories on Earth.
Image of lipid bodies (stained green) in a cell culture.
This research and development has lead to advances in:
- Experimentation on the lipid production of algal cells and its quantification using a combination of different methods (eg. microscopy, flow cytometry, FDIR, GC, TGA).
- Optimization of cell growth rate and biomass concentration, and the investigation of microbial bioproducts.
- Bioreactor designs for facades in architecture and building technology to provide energy efficient and sustainable buildings.
- Development of a carbon negative algae-biofuel using a novel, 200 liter, automated bioreactor to optimize algal lipid production.
Algal cultures are nearly all marine phytoplankton (diatoms, green algae and calcareous algae). The cells are cultured in temperature controlled chambers at various temperatures, ranging from 12 ° C to 25 °C, at photosynthetic photon flux densites from 250-1600, and using culture media of either f/2, h/2 or Aurin (a urine product).
Carbon Capture and Use
We successfully tested a system to concentrate carbon dioxide from 0.04% in the air to 10% in a hydrated medium of an algal bioreactor. Through photosynthesis, algae consume carbon dioxide and produce oxygen and biomass, while taking up nutrients. This system can be scaled globally to capture gigatons of atmospheric carbon dioxide annually. When coupled with an efficient alga bioreactor, the system could be carbon negative.
Image of algal biomass grown on captured carbon dioxide compared to a control with air.