Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Amber Waves Of Grain On A Mission To Mars

Date:
October 27, 2003
Source:
American Chemical Society
Summary:
Mars came nearer to Earth this year than it has in more than 50,000 years, but a new technology could bring it closer still. Scientists have developed a fully sustainable disposal system to deal with waste on long-range space flights using a simple byproduct of wheat.

Mars came nearer to Earth this year than it has in more than 50,000 years, but a new technology could bring it closer still. Scientists have developed a fully sustainable disposal system to deal with waste on long-range space flights using a simple byproduct of wheat.

Related Articles


Wheat grass, an inedible part of the wheat plant, can be used to reclaim pollutants produced from burning waste on a spaceship, according to researchers from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and NASA. The wheat grass itself would normally be trash, but now it can be put to good use in a process that moves the space program one step closer to a manned mission to Mars.

The findings are in the current issue (September/October) of Energy & Fuels, a peer-reviewed bi-monthly journal of the American Chemical Society, the world's largest scientific society.

A manned mission to Mars has long been a goal of the space program, though it is still just a prospect of the fairly distant future. Such a mission would take about three years, depending on the proximity of Mars in its orbit.

"In these three years, you cannot have a supply from Earth, like in a space station," says Shih-Ger Chang, Ph.D., a senior scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California and lead author of the paper. "So the key is to develop a way for a sustainable supply of material to the astronauts. They need a fully regenerative life support system because they have to conserve the materials that they carry with them."

The main problem facing astronauts will be their own "biomass" — human feces and inedible portions of crops grown for food, such as wheat grass. "If they discard wheat grass or human feces into space, then they throw away nutrients," Chang says. "The astronauts need to recover everything for reuse."

One promising method to deal with this waste is to burn it. Incineration rapidly and completely converts the waste to carbon dioxide, water and minerals, and it is a thoroughly developed technology here on earth. Although plants readily absorb carbon dioxide, the major difficulty with incineration, especially in an enclosed spaceship, is that it produces other pollutants, like sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides.

We have effective ways of dealing with these pollutants on Earth but they all require expendable materials, such as activated carbon, which need to be replaced every few months.

And that's where growing wheat in space comes into play. The inedible portion of the wheat — the wheat grass — can be converted to activated carbon onboard the space vehicle by heating it to about 600 C. Emissions from waste incineration are then sent through the activated carbon, which absorbs nitrogen oxides. These are subsequently recovered and converted to nitrogen, ammonia and nitrates. The nitrogen can be used to replace cabin pressure leakage, while the ammonia and nitrates can be used as fertilizer. When the activated carbon loses its capacity to absorb nitrogen oxides, the process starts over with new wheat grass.

In earlier research, Chang and his colleagues demonstrated that gas from the incineration of biomass contains insignificant amounts of sulfur dioxide, so they focused their efforts in this study on controlling nitrogen oxides.

Wheat for a spaceship can be grown hydroponically — in a nutrient solution exposed to artificial sunlight.

About 203 kilograms of carbon derived from wheat straw could be produced per year, which should be more than enough to sustain a crew of six astronauts, according to Chang's calculations.

"It's a recyclable and sustainable process," Chang says. The technology is also simple to operate and functional under microgravity conditions.

NASA is planning studies to scale up the process at its Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by American Chemical Society. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

American Chemical Society. "Amber Waves Of Grain On A Mission To Mars." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 27 October 2003. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2003/10/031027061817.htm>.
American Chemical Society. (2003, October 27). Amber Waves Of Grain On A Mission To Mars. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 25, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2003/10/031027061817.htm
American Chemical Society. "Amber Waves Of Grain On A Mission To Mars." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2003/10/031027061817.htm (accessed November 25, 2014).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Space & Time News

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Feast Your Eyes: Lamb Chop Sent Into Space from UK

Feast Your Eyes: Lamb Chop Sent Into Space from UK

Reuters - Light News Video Online (Nov. 25, 2014) Take a stab at this -- stunt video shows a lamb chop's journey from an east London restaurant over 30 kilometers into space. Rough Cut (no reporter narration). Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Soyuz Spacecraft Docks With International Space Station: NASA

Soyuz Spacecraft Docks With International Space Station: NASA

AFP (Nov. 24, 2014) A Russian Soyuz spacecraft carrying Italy's first female astronaut safely docks with the International Space Station, according to NASA. Duration: 00:40 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Multi-National Crew Safely Docks at Space Station

Multi-National Crew Safely Docks at Space Station

Reuters - US Online Video (Nov. 24, 2014) A Russian Soyuz rocket delivers a multi-national trio to the International Space Station. Rough Cut (no reporter narration). Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Soyuz Docks With Int'l Space Station

Raw: Soyuz Docks With Int'l Space Station

AP (Nov. 23, 2014) A Russian capsule carrying three astronauts from Russia, the United States and Italy has arrived at the International Space Station. (Nov. 23) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Space & Time

Matter & Energy

Computers & Math

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins