American Society of Engineering Education - North Central Section Spring Conference 2018

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Substrate Growth Composting to Improve Sustainability of NASA's Food Production System

and Space Administration’s usage in deep space exploration. This experiment aims to take agriculture in space to new limits by utilizing a new method to make substrate renewable for generations of crops through composting. In order to assess this idea, a tabletop bioreactor was established in a closed, insulated environment to help monitor the decomposition rate. Byproducts produced from the bioreactor will be used to cultivate crops for future consumption in hopes of reaching sustainability. Using recycled substrate would benefit a new world of agriculture by the providing a cheaper economic alternative while producing the same results. Raw organic materials were gathered into a bioreactor once prepared based on set standards given in a compost data insert excel spreadsheet. Moisture content and carbon to nitrogen ratios were the prime factors on what plants and food products were chosen to be added into the system. Once the experimentation began the targeted goal of thermophilic progression is able to be initiated once temperature is able to be elevated to 60 degrees Celsius. During this stage human and plant pathogens, which are the primary sources of diseases spreading in composting, are destroyed in this process. Within an eighteen day time span, the temperature was unable to be met with two similar trials tested. Afterwards, a focus was analyzed on moisture content specifically to understand the importance of the direct relation of the presence of water and the rising of temperature of compost. The results gathered indicated that without the presence of water; temperatures in the bioreactor decreased by one degree per day. On the other hand, once the resource was mixed within the compost, temperature rose to two degrees per day. In general, the results concluded that the decomposition process took place; yet, this project is not ready to be used for NASA’s purposes. The next steps are to understand the bioreactor in order to produce sanitized compost and further explore the bioreactor system while using improved equipment such as an OxyTemp probe in continued research to gather various readings at different levels of compost in the system.

Jasmine Walker
Central State University
United States

Peter Ling
The Ohio State University
United States


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