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Algae Photobioreactor In Space

By Kelsey McIvor, Luis Jasper, and Nick Brandis

International Space Station
1988- core unit launched
16 nations (started with Russia and U.S.)
240 miles from Earth since 2000
U.S. space shuttles bring supplies

ROS (Russian orbital segment) and USOS

(United States operational segment)
Environmental Control and Life Support System (ECLSS)
Current ISS life support system
Provides clean water through a water recycling system
Provides oxygen through electrolysis
Engineers want to extend lifetime for ECLSS

Image result for iss eclss

Problems with ECLSS
Short machine lifetime
Constant loss of resources/need for resupply
Cooling systems currently broken
System is difficult to maintain
Our Goal
New ISS life support system
Self-reliant (survive in space)
Takes carbon dioxide from station
Produces oxygen and food
Possible Solutions
Chemical photosynthesis (completely artificial)
Natural photosynthesis module (garden)
Different plant types (most efficient)
Tubular and plate based photobioreactors
What is a photobioreactor?
A system in which a biological process is performed involving the use of
organisms and the beneficial substances created by these living things

Our Proposed Concept: Bubble Column Photobioreactor

Main tank of algae, long cylinder
Bubble diffuser and water pump push bubbles upwards
Bubbles allow for high gas transfer rates
Bubbles, algae, and water are slowly pumped through the tube
Algae photosynthesizes and replaces co2 in bubbles with oxygen
Oxygen separated at the end of the tank
Model of Photobioreactor
Found on separate link on
Closed Ecological System
No matter exchange outside of system
Mimics an earthlike environment and ecosystem
Eliminates the need for waste management
Calculating the requirements for our bioreactor
8 m^2 exposed chlorella = amount needed to sustain one human

8 m^2*12= 96m^2 exposed chlorella= amount for 12 people

0.9mm= diameter of bubbles produced by bubble diffuser

40.45^2= 2.54mm^2= inner surface area one bubble

2.54mm^2 = 0.00000254m^2

96/0.00000254 = 37,795,276= number of bubbles needed in bioreactor at any given point

Calculating the requirements for our bioreactor cont.
0.1 m = diameter of base of cylindrical bioreactor

50mm^2 = 7,854mm^2 = area of base of cylinder

0.5 mm = width of pore needed to produce a 0.9 mm bubble

0.6mm = width + 0.05mm wall on both sides

0.36mm^2 = area of one pore

7,854mm^2/0.36mm^2 = 21,816 bubbles per bubble layer

Each bubble = 1 mm diameter

37,795,276/21,816 = 1,732 bubble layers needed = 1,732 mm tall reactor = 1.7 m

Water Pump and Bubble Sparger
Bubbles need to be 0.9 mm
Produce over 37.7 million bubbles at any given time
Zero gravity=water pump
Bubbles=transfer of oxygen
Photosynthesis from Algae
Blue and red LED lights
Need water and carbon dioxide
Chlorophylls absorb light
Produce oxygen and biomass
Gas transfer with bubbles and algae
Why Algae?
Produces 70% to 80% of oxygen
Uses carbon dioxide from station
Blue and red LEDs act as sunlight
Chlorophylls absorb light quickly
Photosynthesis efficient and simple
Chlorella: Biomass as a Food
Single-cell green algae
Multiplies rapidly through photosynthesis
Needs carbon dioxide, water, light and minerals
Can remove CO2 and produce O2
45% protein, 20% fat, 5% fiber, and 10% minerals/vitamins
Next Steps
Build prototype off blueprint
Create final design with touchups
Test it out
Introduce to organization to build
Final full size photobioreactor
Machine to NASA for ISS
Estimated Cost
Project never been done
Expensive to sustain algae
Funding for shuttles no longer needed
Closed ecological system=decrease in materials
Guess of $100 million
Future Needs
Advanced bubble sparger
Gas separator for carbon dioxide
Data of oxygen needs
Algae amount total
Google Images
Thanks For Watching!