Engineering Innovation Podcast and Radio Series

Stool to Tool

PostedApril 26, 2018

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Lede: A team of students recently won a gold medal in an international contest for an innovation that could solve a messy problem for those planning trips to Mars.

Randy Atkins: If humans go on a long trip to Mars one day, the University of Calgary students realized they’ll be a couple obvious issues: what to do with human waste – astronaut poop – and very limited room to bring all the stuff they might need.

Alina Kunitskaya: We thought that with our project of using bacteria to make a plastic out of waste we can address both of these challenges at the same time.

Randy Atkins: Alina Kunitskaya, a chemical engineering major, says her team has engineered bacteria that can transform human feces into a plastic powder, which can then be used as a 3D printing material to make useful things. They estimate a crew of six would produce raw material for…

Alina Kunitskaya: …quite a few hydroponic systems and over fifty different types of tools per year.

Randy Atkins: As 3D printing technology advances, Alina says the plastic might even be used to create spacesuits or insulate habitats. The team has used their process to make plastic samples in a lab and is now planning tests in microgravity. With the National Academy of Engineering, Randy Atkins, WTOP News.