Astroplastic: 3D printing in space with astronaut poop
In space, there aren’t a whole lot of materials you can readily use to make things. One waste material that is available in a space station, however, is human poop. Researchers from the University of Calgary developed a way to use space faeces as an ingredient for 3D printing filament, which they call astroplastic, to create plastic tools in space!
The new technique uses genetically engineered version of the bacteria Escherichia coli (E.coli) to convert poop into a type of plastic known as polyhydroxybutyrate (PHB). First, the waste is left for several days to increase its levers of volatile fatty acids (VFAs), which are then extracted using a centrifugal and filtration process. The material is then moved into a fermentation tank that contains the generically engineered E.coli. The resulting material can then be used to print objects using a Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) 3D printer.
The next step in the research is test the plastic making process in low gravity as part of the Canadian Reduced Gravity Experiment Challenge (Can-RGX), which takes place in summer this year, to see if the PHB production can take place on the route to Mars, as well as on the Martian surface.