NASA's Astrobiology Research Spurs Green Tech
NASA astrobiologists spark new green technologies in their quest to understand the evolution of microbial life.
Exobiology scientists at NASA Ames are looking into the origin and evolution of the most primitive organisms and their ability to adapt to different environments, and the implications for life elsewhere. The ultimate goal is to determine how those microbes and environments have changed over time to create the world we live in today.
By investigating the evolution of genes, metabolic pathways, and microbrial species, the findings show the coevolution of microbrial communities that drive the major recycling processes on Earth—critical in the development of new technologies for sustainable energy, food and water processing.
“It may surprise people to learn that NASA’s space science research has so many direct applications to the development of ‘greentech.’ Many of the organisms we study are important producers of hydrogen, methane and lipids that can be used as carbon neutral fuels, and other products,” said Orlando Santos, chief of the Exobiology Branch at Ames, in a statement.
By studying algae, Ames Exobiology scientists discovered that non-traditional species of algae can produce lipids needed to make low-cost fuels. Exploring this option, NASA has met with many industry and research colleagues to discuss America's huge energy consumption demands and the obstacles in producing algae for biofuel commercially. Today, researchers behind this project are helping commercial agal growers produce algae more efficiently and are modeling data to assess and predict changes in the health of algae crops.
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Additionally, the same techniques used to study environments like Mars have been applied to assess methane cycling in the ponds at the Sunnyvale Water Pollution Control Plant in California. The results showed that pond organisms oxidize dissolved methane extremely efficiently at up to 83 percent, while other non-dissolved gases escaped in bubbles too quickly for microbial decomposition—an extremely low energy way to reduce greenhouse gasses.
“NASA’s future includes long-term human space flights,” said Leslie Bebout, a research scientist in the Exobiology Branch at NASA’s Ames Research Center, in a statement. "As part of the human exploration studies, we are studying photosynthesis in space, which can consume carbon dioxide exhaled by astronauts, produce oxygen, and recycle nitrogen-containing wastes."
Businesses, scientists and engineers across the country are now working together more than ever to develop versatile microbial engineering platforms that use significantly less resources and energy to optimize production.
Itronics successfully tests manganese recovery process
Itronics - a Nevada-based emerging cleantech materials growth company that manufacturers fertilisers and produces silver - has successfully tested two proprietary processes that recover manganese, with one process recovering manganese, potassium and zinc from paste produced by processing non-rechargeable alkaline batteries. The second recovers manganese via the company’s Rock Kleen Technology.
Manganese, one of the four most important industrial metals and widely used by the steel industry, has been designated by the US Federal Government as a "critical mineral." It is a major component of non-rechargeable alkaline batteries, one of the largest battery categories sold globally.
The use of manganese in EV batteries is increasing as EV battery technology is shifting to use of more nickel and manganese in battery formulations. But according to the US Department of Interior, there is no mine production of manganese in the United States. As such, Itronics is using its Rock Kleen Technology to test metal recoverability from mine tailings obtained from a former silver mine in western Nevada that has a high manganese content.
In a statement, Itronics says that its Rock Kleen process recovers silver, manganese, zinc, copper, lead and nickel. The company says that it has calculated – based on laboratory test results – that if a Rock Kleen tailings process is put into commercial production, the former mine site would become the only primary manganese producer in the United States.
Itronics adds that it has also tested non-rechargeable alkaline battery paste recovered by a large domestic battery recycling company to determine if it could use one of its hydrometallurgical processes to solubilize the manganese, potassium, and zinc contained in the paste. This testing was successful, and Itronics was able to produce material useable in two of its fertilisers, it says.
"We believe that the chemistry of the two recovery processes would lend itself to electrochemical recovery of the manganese, zinc, and other metals. At this time electrochemical recovery has been tested for zinc and copper,” says Dr John Whitney, Itronics president.
“Itronics has been reviewing procedures for electrochemical recovery of manganese and plans to move this technology forward when it is appropriate to do so and has acquired electro-winning equipment needed to do that.
"Because of the two described proprietary technologies, Itronics is positioned to become a domestic manganese producer on a large scale to satisfy domestic demand. The actual manganese products have not yet been defined, except for use in the Company's GOLD'n GRO Multi-Nutrient Fertilisers. However, the Company believes that it will be able to produce chemical manganese products as well as electrochemical products," he adds.
Itronics’ research and development plant is located in Reno, about 40 miles west of the Tesla giga-factory. Its planned cleantech materials campus, which will be located approximately 40 miles south of the Tesla factory, would be the location where the manganese products would be produced.
Panasonic is operating one of the world's largest EV battery factories at the Tesla location. However, Tesla and other companies have announced that EV battery technology is shifting to use of nickel-manganese batteries. Itronics is positioned and located to become a Nevada-0based supplier of manganese products for battery manufacturing as its manganese recovery technologies are advanced, the company states.
A long-term objective for Itronics is to become a leading producer of high purity metals, including the U.S. critical metals manganese and tin, using the Company's breakthrough hydrometallurgy, pyrometallurgy, and electrochemical technologies. ‘Additionally, Itronics is strategically positioned with its portfolio of "Zero Waste Energy Saving Technologies" to help solve the recently declared emergency need for domestic production of Critical Minerals from materials located at mine sites,’ the statement continues.
The Company's growth forecast centers upon its 10-year business plan designed to integrate its Zero Waste Energy Saving Technologies and to grow annual sales from $2 million in 2019, to $113 million in 2025.