Saturday, May 19, 2007

Is Our Future In Bio Solar Power? Authentic NASA Toys and Replicas
(Image: Mars colony using bio-power. Credit: IntAct Labs, drawn by Chris Lund, via Astrobiology Magazine)

In order to survive off world, humanity will need to discover innovative ways of powering their space habitats. Although using energy from the sun is the most obvious choice when it comes to energy, constructing efficent solar panels on other planets (or even in orbit) may be difficult, if not expensive.

This has led one scientist to suggest that instead of constructing mechanical solar cells in space, why not just simply grow them instead?

(Astrobiology Magazine) Matthew Silver, a space systems engineer who heads IntAct Labs in Cambridge, Mass., presented radical ideas for using biology in a new generation of power supplies. These proposed devices would generate electrons using microbes that live in mud, or proteins native to the human ear or in photosynthetic bacteria.

In theory, biological power systems offer a number of advantages. Existing systems based on physical and chemical processes are difficult and costly to manufacture, and difficult to modify once fabricated. Biological systems may offer a high power-to-weight ratio, convenient fuel storage and many of them make useful byproducts like molecular oxygen. But the ultimate promise is this: they might be grown as needed in space.

These "solar microbes" have the potential of not only reducing the cost of living on both the Moon and Mars, but also enable future colonies to become less dependent upon Earth for energy supplies. These organisms also have the potential of allowing Martians to "farm their own air" instead of relying on oxygen imports from Earth or lunar rocks.

If humanity can harness the power of these tiny organisms, we may not only end up reducing the energy cost of setting up shop on the Moon and Mars, but perhaps on Earth as well.

Update: Centered image.

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You can either visit the stars or watch them from afar.

But if you choose the former, you'll definitely get a better view.

~Darnell Clayton, 2007

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