Author Topic: Algae for space food  (Read 6539 times)

Online Robotbeat

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Re: Algae for space food
« Reply #30 on: 10/08/2011 05:06 PM »

You should understand the algae biofuels process before you make such assertions. 

Watch this.



If I recall correctly, that company went out of business. It's not that algae can't be extracted from water but that the energy costs of doing so are too high, much like ethanol.
Tell that to Brazil who get a quarter of their auto fuel (by volume) from ethanol. They aren't an advanced economy like ours who can afford to produce ethanol for fuel whether it produces a net energy gain or not (and by and large, it most certainly DOES produce a net energy gain even here in the US).

The energy costs of producing oil from the tar sands of Canada are high, too, but it still makes sense to do it.

I suppose solar power also makes no sense for power production in space? ;)

Just because a company went out of business doesn't mean the concept can't be made to work. Algae is largely the source for liquid fossil fuels, after all.
« Last Edit: 10/08/2011 05:07 PM by Robotbeat »
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Offline JohnFornaro

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Re: Algae for space food
« Reply #31 on: 10/09/2011 01:54 AM »
Tell that to Brazil who get a quarter of their auto fuel (by volume) from ethanol.

Not only are those producers government subsidized to a greater rate than our ethanol producers are, they pay their workers less than we do.  Which does not change the energy equation, but does affect the economic equation.  That's all I know about that in general.

Quote
Just because a company went out of business doesn't mean the concept can't be made to work. Algae is largely the source for liquid fossil fuels, after all.

Neither, of course, does that company's failure mean that the concept can be made to work.  The added energy costs, according to the previous poster are the problem, therefore the economics don't work out per the optimistic projections.  If there is a net energy gain in the production of ethanol, if it is not also accompanied by a healthy profit gain, the business will not be sustained.  Hence chapter 11.

It apparently needs to be re-mentioned that although the chemical energy productivity of algae is high, it is also true that numerical chemical energy is not the only element in the nutrition equation.  We know that fossil fuels are ultimately plant based, but it is also obvious that multi-million year manufacturing times are unacceptable.

However, after allowing sufficient time for the fossils to properly "age", we find that RP-1 is still a viable fuel.
Sometimes I just flat out don't get it.

Online Robotbeat

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Re: Algae for space food
« Reply #32 on: 10/09/2011 05:21 AM »
Now the conversation is getting pretty far afield... But the government subsidies can make sense if relying just on the conventional fuels (fossil fuel produced in other, potentially unstable, countries) has such considerable "externalities" that have a cost higher than just paying a subsidy for the alternative.

I mean, how much does it cost the US gov't to protect the Strait of Hormuz? Saudi Arabia, etc? Just a for-instance. US energy companies which refine oil from those places don't pay for that directly (they pay via taxes... hypothetically), so it's called an "externality" (a cost that someone causes but doesn't have to pay except that everyone as a whole ends up paying for it... "tragedy of the commons," etc). If energy companies (and consumers at the pump) were burdened with the full cost of using mostly non-domestic fossil fuels, it might make the subsidies for alternatives look like chump change.

Anyway, trying to bring it back on-topic a little more: Solar power isn't really a very inexpensive source of power on Earth's surface (compared to some alternatives), but at least in the inner solar system (not on a planetary body), solar power is basically by far the cheapest energy source. In the same way, algae production may not compete well with fossil fuels on Earth, but that has very little bearing whether it makes sense in space.
« Last Edit: 10/09/2011 05:21 AM by Robotbeat »
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Offline mlorrey

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Re: Algae for space food
« Reply #33 on: 10/09/2011 06:26 AM »
Now the conversation is getting pretty far afield... But the government subsidies can make sense if relying just on the conventional fuels (fossil fuel produced in other, potentially unstable, countries) has such considerable "externalities" that have a cost higher than just paying a subsidy for the alternative.

I mean, how much does it cost the US gov't to protect the Strait of Hormuz? Saudi Arabia, etc? Just a for-instance. US energy companies which refine oil from those places don't pay for that directly (they pay via taxes... hypothetically), so it's called an "externality" (a cost that someone causes but doesn't have to pay except that everyone as a whole ends up paying for it... "tragedy of the commons," etc). If energy companies (and consumers at the pump) were burdened with the full cost of using mostly non-domestic fossil fuels, it might make the subsidies for alternatives look like chump change.

Anyway, trying to bring it back on-topic a little more: Solar power isn't really a very inexpensive source of power on Earth's surface (compared to some alternatives), but at least in the inner solar system (not on a planetary body), solar power is basically by far the cheapest energy source. In the same way, algae production may not compete well with fossil fuels on Earth, but that has very little bearing whether it makes sense in space.

Brazil can make ethonanol work because they are on the equator and get more insolation, but at the same time, you can point to the amazonian deforestation as the side effects of the ethanol biz: when their agriculture burns out all the topsoil, they abandon it and clear more jungle. They are burning their topsoil just like we are. Their photosynthesis is better because of higher insolation, and they dont have pesky laws against using human and animal waste for fertilizer like we do, so they dont have to consume oil producing fertilizers like we do. Now, algae biofuel, i agree, is the way to go, provided you dont have to fertilize it. Otherwise, you'd be better off focusing on cellulosic biofuel conversion like Mascoma Corp is doing in some pilot plants, turning wood chips and other cellulose into fuel.

Offline alexterrell

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Re: Algae for space food
« Reply #34 on: 03/22/2013 03:11 PM »
Aquaculture is a wonderful idea if you can afford the mass budget of all the water.  For example, if your mission requires long term high energy GCR shielding, then you might require 5 tons per square meter of water anyway.

But if you need to conserve mass, aeroponics seem to be a more promising direction.  Besides minimizing water mass, aeroponics also minimizes disease spread.

All the water would be recycled.

That's not the issue.  The issue is that algae require a lot of water to live because they must be immersed in water.  Aeroponic plants do not need to be immersed in water.  Instead, they are immersed in air, which has a far lower density than water.


Note that if you're using tilapia for food rather than directly using the algae for food, you cut your effective productivity by an order of magnitude.  Each layer of a food chain is roughly an order of magnitude cut in efficiency.  In contrast, aeroponic crops can be used directly for the entire diet--including complete proteins from a variety of legumes.

I was following a thread on Mars ISRU
http://forum.nasaspaceflight.com/index.php?topic=29820.0

which basically led me to the conclusion, that algae cultivation would be the way to go for Mars. I was looking for info on algae as food and got pointed to this thread. A knowledgeable forum....

Apparently Tilapia have a feed conversion ratio of 1.5 or so, compared to about 2 for factory farmed chicken (not sure if they can be fed 100% algae - and they're now banned in the EU. Free range chickens are much less efficient as they do running about etc).

Given algae can yield about 20 times better than the best conventional crops (potato?), it means that Tulipa (and maybe chickens) can yield about 10 times normal crops. And the other benefit is that algae lends itself to continuous fluid processing: Waste, CO2, and some nutrients in at one end of the tube, fish food tablets out the other end.

Now if there was some way to convert the algae into a tasty vegetable, which we can eat more than 100g of? I suppose mushrooms can do this without additional energy?

So we have Fish, chicken, mushrooms, and some seaweed to eat. Not in space, but on any surface where water and sunlight is present.
« Last Edit: 03/22/2013 03:13 PM by alexterrell »

Online guckyfan

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Re: Algae for space food
« Reply #35 on: 03/23/2013 05:03 AM »

Now if there was some way to convert the algae into a tasty vegetable, which we can eat more than 100g of? I suppose mushrooms can do this without additional energy?


I think vegetables can and will be grown on Mars. They are quite fast growing, just not a lot of calories. So the space required to grow them and things like onions, garlic and herbs is not that big. So that is not what algae should replace.

Algae will IMO however replace staple foods like wheat, corn, sunflower. That is where we get the bulk of our calories from (aside from meat). It is not state of the art but bioengineering is advancing rapidly. Algae will be processed into protein, oil and starch.

Starch with some variants of proteins will make flour. Grow the required proteins with bioengineered bacteria or funghi, mix them with starch and you have a suitable replacement for flour. That gives you noodles, bread. You may also be able to produce a suitable replacement for instant mashed potatoes and other products.

Oil, proteins will make a substitute for milk. If designed for it that can be the base for milk products like cheese.

Protein directly from algae and from funghi can be processed into meat substitutes.

All of these things will taste differently to the products we are used to. But taste is acquired so people will adjust.

In case of emergencies, algae products can feed humans directly with everything needed to keep healthy. Very efficient but not very desirable I imagine so really only suited for emergencies.

BTW, the oil of algae is very high quality. The health value of fish oil is known. But it is not the fish producing it, they get it from the algae they eat.

Offline Hernalt

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Re: Algae for space food
« Reply #36 on: 03/23/2013 04:12 PM »
1. Have some tilapia, from a supermarket, produced under the lowest input, lowest maintenance conditions that the profit motive can achieve.
2. You are not allowed to use any other additives, ingredients or spices, not even salt.
3. Read up on tilapia.
4. Post again on the topic of tilapia and share your findings.

Online guckyfan

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Re: Algae for space food
« Reply #37 on: 03/23/2013 06:47 PM »
1. Have some tilapia, from a supermarket, produced under the lowest input, lowest maintenance conditions that the profit motive can achieve.
2. You are not allowed to use any other additives, ingredients or spices, not even salt.
3. Read up on tilapia.
4. Post again on the topic of tilapia and share your findings.

Where does that arbitrary and untenable condition 2. come from, especially no salt? It is quite well known that Tilapia tastes of almost nothing. BTW that is why I don't buy them in the shop. But we are talking of Mars, where even Tilapia woul be welcome. Spices and herbs that will be available on Mars will do a lot of good. Also there are other fish than Tilapia that can be considered as well as shrimp. Tilapia is a freshwater fish. There are sea water fish that can take their place.

Offline alexterrell

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Re: Algae for space food
« Reply #38 on: 03/23/2013 08:23 PM »
If chicken can convert algae at 30-40% efficiency compared to 60-70% for Tilapia, it just means chicken will cost double the price of Tilapia. But both will be more efficient (and hence cheaper) then real vegetables.

So, chicken or Tilapia, bread from algae, and tomatoes. Serve with spices of your choice - they weigh nothing and have a long shelf life, so can come from Earth.

Offline mmeijeri

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Re: Algae for space food
« Reply #39 on: 03/23/2013 08:45 PM »
1. Have some tilapia, from a supermarket, produced under the lowest input, lowest maintenance conditions that the profit motive can achieve.
2. You are not allowed to use any other additives, ingredients or spices, not even salt.
3. Read up on tilapia.
4. Post again on the topic of tilapia and share your findings.

And then repeat the experiment with just algae.  ;D
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Online aero

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Re: Algae for space food
« Reply #40 on: 03/23/2013 11:39 PM »
If chicken can convert algae at 30-40% efficiency compared to 60-70% for Tilapia, it just means chicken will cost double the price of Tilapia. But both will be more efficient (and hence cheaper) then real vegetables.

So, chicken or Tilapia, bread from algae, and tomatoes. Serve with spices of your choice - they weigh nothing and have a long shelf life, so can come from Earth.

I don't know about Tilapia, but I would ask how you plan to transport the first chickens from Earth to Mars? It's my understanding that fertilized eggs won't work. They will either hatch or spoil.

Offline Patchouli

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Re: Algae for space food
« Reply #41 on: 03/24/2013 02:11 AM »
If chicken can convert algae at 30-40% efficiency compared to 60-70% for Tilapia, it just means chicken will cost double the price of Tilapia. But both will be more efficient (and hence cheaper) then real vegetables.

So, chicken or Tilapia, bread from algae, and tomatoes. Serve with spices of your choice - they weigh nothing and have a long shelf life, so can come from Earth.

I don't know about Tilapia, but I would ask how you plan to transport the first chickens from Earth to Mars? It's my understanding that fertilized eggs won't work. They will either hatch or spoil.

It might be possible to breed squab aka pigeons to be closer to chicken in their efficiency at producing meat since they can eat and drink in microgravity.

Though live chickens could be transported to Mars if the transport ship has a centrifuge like Nautilus-X.

I suggest miniature chickens to carry as many as possible then carry sperm of larger breeds.

Eggs would still need a centrifuge just a smaller one but it would be bad to find out that your eggs have not hatched or all the surviving chickens have defects half way to Mars.

A Nautilus-X type ship could solve a lot of the Earth to Mars transport issues including how do you get a lot of people there for an affordable cost.


« Last Edit: 03/24/2013 02:20 AM by Patchouli »

Offline Hernalt

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Re: Algae for space food
« Reply #42 on: 03/24/2013 04:48 AM »
It is quite well known that Tilapia tastes of almost nothing. BTW that is why I don't buy them in the shop.
Perhaps the next time I am out of the Sonoran Desert and closer to a German climate I will try the tilapia. :)

Is there anything here that could be put into practice with the Mars Desert Research Station in Utah? Have them set up algae processing, algae fish farms, etc.

Online guckyfan

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Re: Algae for space food
« Reply #43 on: 03/24/2013 05:57 AM »
So, chicken or Tilapia, bread from algae, and tomatoes. Serve with spices of your choice - they weigh nothing and have a long shelf life, so can come from Earth.

I don't know about Tilapia, but I would ask how you plan to transport the first chickens from Earth to Mars? It's my understanding that fertilized eggs won't work. They will either hatch or spoil.

We have the

Mars ISRU for food crops and consumables

thread for this kind of discussion in the Missions To Mars thread.

http://forum.nasaspaceflight.com/index.php?topic=29820.0

I post a reply there.

Edit: fixed quote
« Last Edit: 03/24/2013 06:52 AM by guckyfan »

Offline bolun

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Re: Algae for space food
« Reply #44 on: 06/27/2014 01:32 PM »
Algae have been studied for bioregenerative life support, notably in ESA's Melissa project. Spirulina turns out to be one of the best candidates. It is chock-full of everything you need, including vitamins.

There's a big snag though, humans cannot eat more than ~100g/day of algae (or more generally single cell proteine) without getting gout. Somewhere during our evolution we lost the ability to break down uric acid, which is a product of DNA / RNA digestion and when we get too much of it, it forms the painful crystals responsible for gout. Spirulina is an excellent food supplement, but not suitable as the main component of your diet. Plus you don't want to be eating nothing but algae soup every day.

Fish on the other hand do have the ability to break down uric acid, and Tilapia thrive on a Spirulina diet, so the combination would be very useful for human consumption.

Well that is what I was talking about when I mentioned food processing.  I was imagining that algae would not be terribly tasty. 

The raw material is there we just need to do food processing to turn it into something useful.

http://www.esa.int/Our_Activities/Human_Spaceflight/Research/Closing_the_recycling_circle

Quote

Spirulina bioreactors

The ‘Melissa loop’ is about to take off. All around the world – and soon above it – key pieces of the puzzle are being tested to see how they fit into the whole.

First up is a photo-bioreactor that uses light to power organisms for turning unwanted carbon dioxide into something we can use.

Bioreactors cultivate organisms in closed containers but getting a species to thrive is no easy task. As the occupants grow they need space and different lighting. And continuously drawing the good stuff out of the reactor ready for human consumption cannot be allowed to disturb the mini-ecosystem.
 
The Melissa team has made great progress in this domain and is ready to test their system in space. In the next 12 months they will send Spirulina algae to the International Space Station to see how well it grows in microgravity.

Spirulina has been harvested for food in South America and Africa for centuries. It turns carbon dioxide into oxygen, multiplies rapidly and can also be eaten as a delicious protein-rich astronaut meal.

The first experiment will simply assess how Spirulin aadapts to weightlessness so researchers can fine-tune the unit.

The next step is a hands-on test: an experiment that mimics astronauts’ breathing will be connected to the bioreactor so the Spirulina can grow on a steady stream of carbon dioxide, delivering oxygen in return.

If these early tests in space go well, the team will be a long way towards the ultimate goal of recycling carbon dioxide, water and organic waste into food, water and oxygen

Image credit: ESA

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