Algae and other microbes can synthesize biochemicals needed for manufacturing different bioproducts on Earth and on space stations. Using bioreactors specialized for cultivating different species, it is possible to produce bioplastics and carbon fibers for infrastructure, nanocarbonates for synthetic concrete, lipids for biofuels and carotenes and omega-3 fatty acids for health and medical supplements.
ESA's Sustainable Material Concepts project has developed this idea as part of a closed material loop in collaboration with HSLU`s Algae Technology Group, Inspire AG and the Swiss Federal Institute.
The study of sustainable material concepts for exploration missions has two scenarios:
1. Use of materials as biological nutrients (e.g. recycling CO2, O2 and CH4).
2. Use of materials as technical nutrients through material conversion and recycling.
It has been shown that if the material can be at least partially recycled and processed on a space station, a significant number of support flights for construction of greenhouses, habitats, or other infrastructure can be eliminated.