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NASA CO2 challenge looks to advance biomanufacturing in space

Technology News |
By Rich Pell


The new CO2 Conversion Challenge is looking for novel ways to convert the gas into molecules to power biomanufacturing in space. Specifically, the agency sees such technologies as allowing the manufacture of products on Mars – whose atmosphere offers a readily abundant supply of CO2 – using local, indigenous resources.

“Enabling sustained human life on another planet will require a great deal of resources and we cannot possibly bring everything we will need,” says Monsi Roman, program manager of NASA’s Centennial Challenges program. “We have to get creative. If we can transform an existing and plentiful resource like carbon dioxide into a variety of useful products, the space – and terrestrial – applications are endless.”

Carbon and oxygen are the molecular building blocks of sugars, so developing efficient systems that can produce glucose from carbon dioxide will help advance the emerging field of biomanufacturing technology on Earth, says the agency. While sugar-based biomaterials are inexpensively made on Earth by plants, the approach cannot be easily adapted for space missions because of limited resources such as energy, water, and crew time.

The CO2 Conversion Challenge is designed to help find a solution. Energy-rich sugars are preferred microbial energy sources composed of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen atoms, says the agency, and they could be used as the feedstock for systems that can efficiently produce a variety of items.

The Challenge is divided into two phases. In the first phase, teams must submit a design and description of a conversion system that includes details of the physical-chemical approaches to convert carbon dioxide into glucose. NASA will award up to five teams $50,000 each, to be announced in April 2019.

The second phase is the system construction and demonstration stage, which is contingent on promising submissions in the first phase that offer a viable approach to achieving challenge goals. The second phase will carry a prize purse of up to $750,000, for a total challenge prize purse of $1 million.

Interested participants must register no later than Thursday, January 24, 2019, at 5:00 PM Central.

CO2 Conversion Challenge

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