NanoRacks-National Design Challenge-Chatfield High School-The Effect of Microgravity on Two Strains of Biofuel Producing Algae with Implications for the Production of Renewable Fuels in Space Based Applications (NanoRacks-NDC-CHS-The Green Machine) - 03.01.17

Overview | Description | Applications | Operations | Results | Publications | Imagery

ISS Science for Everyone

Science Objectives for Everyone
Algae can produce both fats and hydrogen, which can each be used as fuel sources on Earth and potentially in space. NanoRacks-National Design Challenge-Chatfield High School-The Effect of Microgravity on Two Strains of Biofuel Producing Algae with Implications for the Production of Renewable Fuels in Space Based Applications (NanoRacks-NDC-CHS-The Green Machine) studies two algae species to determine whether they still produce hydrogen and store fats while growing in microgravity. Results from this student-designed investigation improve efforts to produce a sustainable biofuel in space, as well as remove carbon dioxide from crew quarters.
Science Results for Everyone
Information Pending

The following content was provided by Joel Bertelsen, M.S., and is maintained in a database by the ISS Program Science Office.
Experiment Details

OpNom: NanoRacks Module-54

Principal Investigator(s)
Chatfield High School , Chatfield High School, Littleton, CO, United States

Co-Investigator(s)/Collaborator(s)
Joel Bertelsen, M.S., Chatfield High School, Littleton, CO, United States

Developer(s)
Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS), Rockledge, FL, United States

Sponsoring Space Agency
National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)

Sponsoring Organization
National Laboratory Education (NLE)

Research Benefits
Information Pending

ISS Expedition Duration
March 2015 - September 2015

Expeditions Assigned
43/44

Previous Missions
Information Pending

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Experiment Description

Research Overview

  • The goals of NanoRacks-National Design Challenge-Chatfield High School-The Effect of Microgravity on Two Strains of Biofuel Producing Algae with Implications for the Production of Renewable Fuels in Space Based Applications (NanoRacks-NDC-CHS-The Green Machine) are to demonstrate that Chlamydomonas reinhardtii produces hydrogen through photosynthesis in microgravity and to demonstrate that Chlorella vulgaris stores lipids in microgravity.
  • If successful, the algae could be used to produce fuels on orbit, which could have great implications for extending missions, remove carbon dioxide (CO2) from crew quarters, and possibly as a food source.

Description

NanoRacks-National Design Challenge-Chatfield High School-The Effect of Microgravity on Two Strains of Biofuel Producing Algae with Implications for the Production of Renewable Fuels in Space Based Applications (NanoRacks-NDC-CHS-The Green Machine) hopes to establish the viability of using these algae for the production of biofuels in space. The first alga being studied is Chlamydomonas reinhardtii, a strain that produces hydrogen when deprived of sulfur. The goal of the investigation is to establish the viability of algal hydrogen production in space, and specifically, to determine if algae removed from the gravitational influence of the Earth still produces hydrogen in a sulfur deprived environment. In addition the investigation seeks to demonstrate that the lack of gravitational influences reduces the necessity of agitation for the solution, as the bioreactor containing the algae is agitated once every 30 minutes. The experiment is based on work done by scientists at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) where a special strain of algae is being studied for their ability to produce hydrogen. The proposed method would utilize the sulfate-limited system reported by Alexander S. Fedorov, Sergey Kosourov, Maria L. Ghirardi and Michael Seibert. Using this system, they demonstrated that continuous hydrogen production was possible for 4000 hours in a closed system. In order to confirm hydrogen production, a color changing tape, made by Hysense is being used. This tape changes color in the presence of hydrogen from a light tan to a gray. In order to determine the time at which hydrogen production began, an onboard camera takes pictures of the bioreactor every 30 minutes for the duration of the mission.
 
The second alga being studied is Chlorella vulgaris, a strain that accumulates intracellular lipids when deprived of nitrate. With this strain, the investigation aims to show that lipid production and storage within the algal cells still occurs in a microgravity environment. The reduction in agitation is especially significant for the chlorella, as they are non-motile; giving a picture of cellular distribution for a species that is completely at the mercy of gravitational and fluid forces. This part of the experiment is also based on work done by scientists at NREL, who are working to characterize the ability of this strain of algae to produce lipids that can be used for the production of biofuels. In order to establish the lipid production for the chlorella, post flight analysis is necessary. At the completion of the 24 day period on orbit, the module is frozen and the samples are analyzed upon return to Earth. This is accomplished by performing a Fatty Acid Methyl Ester (FAME) analysis.
 
The NanoRacks-NDC-CHS-The Green Machine project adapts each system to demonstrate the survivability of the algae on the long trip to orbit, and demonstrates that small-scale production in space is possible using each biochemical pathway.

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Applications

Space Applications
The algae species Chlamydomonas reinhardtii produces hydrogen through photosynthesis on Earth. Growing it in space would provide a source of hydrogen for fuel cells, which could power orbital maneuvers or other mission needs. The species Chlorella vulgaris produces lipids, or fats, in certain conditions, which could be refined into an oil to be used as fuel. This investigation seeks to demonstrate that each algal strain continue to produce biofuels in microgravity, helping scientists understand whether they could be grown as future food or fuel sources in space.

Earth Applications
Algae are a potential source of renewable fuel and a means of scrubbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, benefiting the environment and people on Earth. This investigation provides new understanding of how algae grow in harsh environments. In addition, the investigation is designed by students at Chatfield High School in Denver, Colorado, who gain unique experience in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields while developing a connection to the space program.

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Operations

Operational Requirements and Protocols

Module-54 must begin within 5 days following launch. The Module returns frozen at -100ºC.

NanoRacks Module-54 launches in passive Cold Stowage at 4°C. The Module is transferred to the NanoRacks Platform to start the powered operations phase. The Module returns to the ground at -100°C in soft stowage.

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Decadal Survey Recommendations

Information Pending

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Results/More Information

Information Pending

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Related Websites
Chatfield's Green Machine
CASIS

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Imagery

image
The NanoRacks-National Design Challenge-Chatfield High School-The Effect of Microgravity on Two Strains of Biofuel Producing Algae with Implications for the Production of Renewable Fuels in Space Based Applications (NanoRacks-NDC-CHS-The Green Machine) Chatfield High School Engineering class.  Image courtesy of  Joel Bertelsen.

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