Mango Materials has been selected for a Phase II STTR award from NASA to explore the production of biopolymers in a microgravity environment. This funding will aid in continuing the work from the Phase I award.
The proposed innovation, submitted under the title “A Novel, Membrane-Based Bioreactor Design to Enable a Closed-Loop System on Earth and Beyond”, is a membrane bioreactor system to produce a biopolymer from methane gas that is applicable in outer space environments. According to the technical abstract of the proposal, this new methane fermentation process will expand and advance current gas delivery techniques to create affordable fermentation methods on Earth and beyond. Mango Materials is currently working to scale up and commercialize the production of polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA) from methane, but its scaled-up fermentation systems are typically tall and narrow to take advantage of hydrostatic pressure for the transfer of methane into solution.
The proposed design is a novel, membrane-based bioreactor that will enable bacterial growth and biopolymer production to occur in micro- or low-gravity environments by providing gases through membranes. Growth and biopolymer production using methane as a feedstock will be demonstrated at high efficiencies. The proposed work will also identify methods by which process wastes can be recycled back to minimize the required inputs. Finally, a thorough feasibility analysis will be conducted to evaluate the use of the process on a long-term space mission. Mango Materials will partner with Colorado School of Mines, where there is extensive experience with membrane bioreactors, to design and construct this system.
Potential non-NASA commercial applications of polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHAs) are as a substitute for conventional plastic goods including microbeads, packaging, children’s toys, electronic casings, coatings, and agricultural films. These materials can be fully biodigestable and will be converted back into carbon using microbial processes. This carbon can enter the natural carbon cycle and prevent additional carbon to affect the atmospheres of Earth or other planetary bodies.
NASA SBIR and STTR programs fund the research, development, and demonstration of innovative technologies that fulfil NASA needs (as described in the annual solicitations) and have significant potential for successful commercialization. The programs have 3 phases:
- Phase I is the opportunity to establish the scientific, technical, commercial merit and feasibility of the proposed innovation, and the quality of the SBC’s performance.
Phase I work and results should provide a sound basis for the continued development, demonstration and delivery of the proposed innovation in Phase II and follow-on efforts. Successful completion of Phase I objectives is a prerequisite to consideration for a Phase II award.The SBIR Phase I contracts last for 6 months and STTR Phase I contracts last for 12 months, both with a maximum funding of $125,000.
- Phase II is focused on the development, demonstration and delivery of the innovation. Only SBCs awarded a Phase I contract are eligible to submit a proposal for a Phase II funding agreement. Phase II projects are chosen as a result of competitive evaluations and based on selection criteria provided in the Solicitation. Phase II contracts last for 24 months with a maximum funding of $750,000.
- Phase III is the commercialization of innovative technologies, products, and services resulting from either a Phase I or Phase II contract. Phase III contracts are funded from sources other than the SBIR and STTR programs.