Remember that scene in Apollo 13 where the main crew dispose of all their waste in the depths of space? They’d be kicking themselves if they found out what a useful resource they had just chucked out. While presenting stunning new research at the American Chemical Society expo, Mark Blenner and his team outlined a method for turning urine into 3D printed plastic. The team believes this can be a boon to space travel and human survival in outer orbit conditions.
The method requires urine, the CO2 from breathing and the use of a yeast called Yarrowia lipolytica. When put together, the yeast metabolises nitrogen and carbon. Researchers can produce specific strands of the yeast that can put out different end-products. As a result, researchers were able to engineer a yeast that could produce polyester. This specific strand could then allow astronauts to print parts from the by-product.
Advantages to Space Travel
These findings have massive implications for space travel. The advantages are clear as day. Firstly, space travel requires economising space and cargo. This allows astronauts to reduce waste storage and printing materials storage at the same time. It also means that there will be less of a need to keep perishable goods on board the shuttle.
Additionally, it helps cut down on resupply trips, saving time, fuel and manpower. It also means waste disposal has far fewer steps. In fact, waste can be a productive resource, since now it fuels the creation of vital tools or products.
The research also opens many doors into future yeast applications. Further research could dive into the use of bacterias and yeasts into things like other plastics and conductive materials such as graphene, which also requires a lot of the same base elements and can be metabolised by bacteria. This is still an emerging field of research, but the possibilities are breath-taking.
3D Printing in Space
Innovations based around space travel are nothing new to the 3D printing industry. Some of the wildest concepts are coming from researchers attempting to make space habitation easier. One great example was earlier this year, when researchers revealed their plans to build self-replicating 3D printers. These future printers could potentially use lunar soil and other extraterrestrial materials to repair themselves or build other 3D printers.
Similarly, NASA are no strangers to combining 3D printing and space. They have also demonstrated the ability to 3D print food in space. In another story, NASA showed off its plans to manufacture 4D fabrics as sheaths for spacecrafts. These materials could reflect and absorb heat in extreme temperature circumstances.
3D printing is crucial to space travel. From the making of space crafts to shielding them to feeding their inhabitants, additive manufacturing is playing an increasing role. It also means that the aerospace industry invest more time and money into 3D printing. This mutually beneficial role between the 2 industries is boosting both their capabilities.