Sustainable Bioproducts (SBP) has developed a simple and energy efficient bioreactor technology for the purpose of supporting NASA’s in-situ microbial manufacturing needs. The technology capitalizes on the robust nature of filamentous fungi grown as biofilms. SBP has shown that the system can be used to convert a multitude of mission available feedstocks into dense, easily harvestable biomats. Advantages over current fermentation technologies include: simplicity of operation, minimal to no energy usage during growth, not expected to be significantly impacted by microgravity, dense biomats (~200 g/L), simple harvesting and easy scale-up. Implementation of SBP’s specialized technology will enable the closure of life support loops, particularly waste streams, while providing mission critical products such as nutritional and appetizing foods, fuels, pharmaceuticals and building materials.
Sustainable Bioproducts in collaboration with Montana State University and BioServe Space Technologies at the University of Colorado, desire to continue development of the biofilm-biomat reactor system by leveraging learnings from the NASA Phase I program in combination with BioServe’s extensive experience in designing, fabricating and implementing biosystems in space.
SBP, MSU and BioServe propose to design, fabricate and test terrestrial prototype bioreactor systems that incorporate the advanced technology into a single unit. Deliverables for the project include: demonstration level prototype bioreactor that can be incorporated into an ISS midlevel size locker, evaluation of different organisms and feedstocks in the system, mass balances and transfer rates of individual constituents, examination of biofilm ultrastructure and gene expression, defined operation protocols, and calculation of Critical System Mass in preparation for possible Phase III research.
Closing life-support loops for NASA space missions and minimizing Equivalent System Mass by providing: 1) Robust low maintenance bioreactors that do not require active aeration or agitation for rapid growth of filamentous microorganisms under microgravity, 2) A biofilm-based reactor technology that enables growth on a wide variety of available feedstocks while providing dense, consolidated and easily harvested biomass, 4) An efficient production system that generates minimal waste residues, and 5) A bioreactor system that easily scales.
In addition to increasing SBP’s efficiency for producing high-protein foods, the technology can be used in situations where protein-rich food is needed, such as civilian needs in developing nations, during catastrophes such as earthquakes and floods, and food for military operations. It is expected that governmental agencies such as the USDA, FEMA and DOD will be interested in the technology.