Forget Sci-Fi—This NREL biotech could actually help colonize Mars

December 12, 2021 |

In Colorado, National Renewable Energy Laboratory scientists and partner Nzyme2HC are actively exploring if astronauts can use NREL’s patented ethylene-emitting cyanobacteria in closed systems to manufacture building materials on Mars.

Leveraging technology previously supported by the U.S. Department of Energy Bioenergy Technologies Office, NREL scientists are pivoting the technology to the potential for Mars exploration. The scientists previously developed technology on how to insert an extra enzyme into a strain of cyanobacteria to enable the organisms to emit ethylene gas during metabolism. This might allow future Martian colonists may be able to take advantage of that ability in closed cyanobacterial farms to turn Mars’ carbon dioxide, sunlight, and water into a stream of ethylene to help establish a colony.

“The red planet has what we need to make ethylene, and that ethylene can be used to make all sorts of materials,” said Eric Payne, a senior licensing executive for NREL technologies. “When future astronauts successfully land on Mars, could they use NREL’s cyanobacteria to make what they need to build a colony? NREL and Nzyme2HC are working to find that out.”

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Category: Research

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