No matter how much we recycle, reduce or reuse, we will always have one kind of waste – human waste. From when we are babies to our last days, we poop. While most say “eww,” or share an elementary school poop joke, researchers at University of Calgary are saying “cool!” Instead of flushing it away, they found a way to turn what comes out from down below into something quite valuable way up above in outer space. And no, it’s not bullsh*t. It’s human sh*t.
Faced with two problems – ۱) what to do with human waste in space and 2) how to get needed supplies to astronauts in space (especially longer space missions like Mars), scientists are working on solutions. The University of Calgary discovery is probably the most entertaining and interesting solution yet.
UCalgary’s gold-medal project, entitled “Astroplastic: From Colon to Colony,” tests the theory of using human waste as the foundation for a bioplastic that can then be used in 3D printers to build tools. The multi-faculty team received the gold medal prize during a recent competition in the International Genetically Engineered Machine Foundation’s Giant Jamboree in Boston.
“With space travel, such as a three-year mission to Mars, there are major challenges to overcome,” explains Alina Kunitskaya, a fourth-year chemical engineering student at the Schulich School of Engineering. “Transporting material is difficult and expensive, and how do you anticipate every challenge and everything you need over three years on a trip to Mars Recycling waste is another major challenge.”
A visit to Calgary’s wastewater treatment plant and further brainstorming refined that idea into a solution for deep-space astronauts. And, armed with the advice of real space travelers like Chris Hadfield and University of Calgary Chancellor Robert Thirsk, the team had its mission.
“This year, the University of Calgary’s project involves using genetically engineered E. coli to turn human waste into bioplastics,” reads the team summary of the project.