return to main page

Black Soldier Fly Hydroponics - going to Mars?

(last updated Tuesday April 27th 2021 11:59pm)
 
I've submitted BSF Hydro for the NASA Deep Space Food Challenge - and hence this page to document my progress and ideas.
 
There are many challenges of humans going to Mars, one of those is how to feed those humans in route and once arrived for the duration of their stay.
 
One of the issues with any crop production system is that the explorers will take with them 100% of all the nutrients they will need for their entire journey. Think of this like energy - energy is never created or destroyed, just transformed. The nutrients will be the same, the dirt on Mars has little to no nutrients and other issues, so the explorers would need to take with them 100% of their nutrient needs for the entire duration off-earth. This also means that they will need to recycle absolutely as much of the available sources of nutrients as possible. Any failure to do so will likely mean their mission will fail - unless it's short enough that they can take all their food with them. If there were to be resupply arrivals, and likely this would be packaged foods, these nutrients in the form of humanure can contribute to the existing available nutrients.
 
Any Mars food crop system must supply enough food to have excess/waste. If the explorers only grow enough that they eat 100% of their crop, that means they are right on the cusp of starvation if there is the slightest hiccup.
 
It's extremely likely that any explorers will have to be vegans (and possibly entomophagy) - except for packaged foods brought from Earth.
 
NASA has been vigilant to avoid taking along any microbial life to space except for tightly controlled experiments - which needs to change. Any explorers to Mars will need to at minimum be able to compost their human waste and plant waste.
 
BSF Hydro has some possible benefits in this scenario, while some real challenges exist as well.
 
Benefits
Problems
Other Stuff

 
The following is the official design application which I have to submit by July 30, 2021.
 
In starting to work on this, it seems to be pretty clear that the BSF food composter part of the system will not be able to be used during transit to Mars - since it's very likely that 100% of food will be prepackaged, and so 100% consumed - and so no food waste. That said, here's some thoughts:
Since 100% of nutrients will have to originate on earth, and be taken with them... and because long-term storage of food invariably results in nutrient loss during storage > 1 yr, NASA seems to want some food growing capability in flight, possibly supplementary only (bonus food).
Some options to this end of in-transit hydroponic food/plant production:
 

Currently I've filled out this form as if the crew will have food waste to run the system as it would be run when on a planet. It seems likely I need to rethink this - such that for in transit it would need to either process humanure and/or nutrient pellets for this purpose...

1. Design Abstract *
This is your elevator pitch to describe your food production technology to the Judging Panel members. This is your opportunity to make a strong first impression, so make every word count!
 
Provide a brief summary description of the food production technology to address the following questions:
• What is your proposed technology?
• What is novel, sustainable, and innovative about your proposed technology?
• What types of food does your technology produce?
• How are you minimizing inputs and maximizing food outputs?
(Word limit: 250)
Response:
Through rapid composting via black soldier fly (BSF) larva, food waste is quickly recycled (< 24 hours) into high quality hydroponic nutrient base to grow new vegetables. A hydroponic system efficiently delivers and recycles the nutrients until taken up by the plants, while also optimizing water consumption. This system works to produce any vegetables desired (far beyond what typical chemical based hydroponics can) with minimal work, energy consumption, and space. Power consumption is < 100 watts continuous, plus 'plant lighting' (50% time schedule).  Proven to thrive: tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, beets, greens, green beans, peas, strawberries, onions, zucchini, bell peppers, celery, herbs, and others.
(102 words)

2. Design Report *
2.1 Description of the food production technology
Describe what the technology is, what it does, how it functions, and how the crew will interact with it. Include descriptions of major hardware components and processes.*
(Word limit: 500)
Response:
The system consists of hydroponics plant growing system, with the addition of the described BSF composting as the nutrient liquid source. As needed the crew will add food-plant seeds, harvest ready to eat produce, remove plants as they get old, and possibly add water on a weekly basis. The system will automatically cycle between circulate and aerate, and plant lighting will cycle on/off with a minimum 50% on time. The crew will add food waste to the BSF composter as it becomes available.
(83 words)

Describe the basic operations concept of the food production technology. Describe assumptions required of operation. For example, is a sterile/aseptic environment needed? Are special steps required between production cycles? Must fluids or materials be removed or added to prime/inoculate a system?
(Word limit: 250)
Response:


(1 words)

2.2 INNOVATION *
Describe what makes the food production technology novel, innovative and sustainable*
(Word limit: 500)
Response:
While I have been using, experimenting with and improving this system for >10 years now, I'm not aware of any other person or company who uses BSF in this way (other than those I've provided information to). This is innovative for earth bound food production since it addresses multiple issues and can provide healthy food on location without issues related to soil problems, water shortages, etc. By it's nature, this system is sustainable.
(73 words)

2.3 ADHERENCE TO CONSTRAINTS ¹: *
Describe and/or confirm how the food production technology design adheres to the constraints listed below:
 
¹ In Phase 1, Adherence to Constraints is not meant to determine whether the Design Report itself is complete in including all the required information. This question is meant to ensure that Teams have considered the constraints, and that the food production technology design, at a minimum, falls within those constraints. In future Phases, Teams’ food production technologies will be evaluated and scored on whether or not the design stays within the constraints so that it ultimately can meet NASA and CSA’s needs and deliver value.
Additional comments (Word limit: 50)
Response:
This system has some challenges when not used terrestrially, mostly since it's likely that 100% of food products in transit will be packaged and 100% consumed (no food waste).
(29 words)

VOLUME:
Food production technology must:
• Be ≤ 2 cubic meters
• Pass through a doorway that is 1.07 m wide and 1.90 m tall
• Fit in a room that is: 1.829 m X 2.438 m X 2.591 m (W x D x H) 6'x8'x6.5'
(Word limit: 50)
Response:

The system can be scaled based on food output requirements, and available space.
(13 words)

POWER:
Food production technology must:
• Maximum draw of 3,000 Watts
• Average draw of <1,500 Watts
(Word limit: 50)
Response:

Easily uses < 1,500 Watts.
(5 words)

WATER:
Net consumption of water is not constrained, but greater net water consumption may result in a lower score on the Resource Inputs & Outputs performance requirement described later in the application.
 
Net consumption of water is measured by the following equation:
CNet = (Initial water input + “new water” added over time)
 
In this calculation:
• Do not include water recycled by your system in the “new water”
• Do not subtract the water remaining in your system after the food has been collected
• Do not subtract water lost to the vehicle environment (e.g., water evaporated into the vehicle’s air)
(Word limit: 50)
Response:

NASA will know the likely CNet based on previous international space station hydroponics system experimentation. In my experience the CNet of a system 27 sqft growing area (100% exposed to ambient air) is 5 gallons per week.
(38 words)

MASS:
Not constrained, but greater mass may result in a lower score on the Resource Inputs & Outputs performance requirement.
(Word limit: 50)
Response:

The mass of the BSF composting system is less than the mass of the hydroponics system (minus water).
(19 words)

DATA CONNECTION:
In Phase 1, the food production technology may be designed to transmit operational data and limited video to a remote location outside of the technology itself, and receive periodic operational commands. Future phases of this Challenge will require greater autonomy.
(Word limit: 50)
Response:

No outside data connection is required. Optional, video monitoring, temperature alarm.
(11 words)

CREW TIME:
Maintenance & Operations of the system: Not constrained, although Teams should target a maximum crew time of 4 hours per week for operations of the food production technology for the entire crew of 4 individuals.
(Word limit: 50)
Response:

The system requires very minimal human interaction. Plant seeds, harvest products, remove old plants as necessary. Add food waste as available.
(21 words)

OPERATIONAL CONSTRAINTS:
Earth gravity (9.81 m/s²) and ambient atmospheric conditions of 101,325 Pascals, 22 degrees Celsius and 50 percent relative humidity.
(Word limit: 50)
Response:

The temperature of 22 Celsius is fine for growing most food plants. The BSF eggs need a temperature of around 29 Celsius for optimal hatching, but it's likely the BSF larva will produce the added temperature in a correctly designed compost bin.
(43 words)

Response box for additional comments on Adherence to Constraints (Word limit: 50)
Response:


(1 words)

2.4 Describe how the food production technology addresses the following performance criteria *
2.4.1 ACCEPTABILITY – Process
Operations processes and procedures, including how a person will set up and use the solution
• Operational footprint (i.e., how much space is needed for the solution and its related processes?)
• Food production technology set up
• Food production cycle, including steps to produce food products
• Food handling, processing procedures and collection of food products
• Shutdown, cleaning, and/or stowage procedure(s)
• An estimate of the overall crew time to operate and maintain the technology
 
Provide an assessment (using industry standards and/or existing research) that your technology processes are likely to be user friendly and acceptable to crew.
(Word limit: 500)
Response:

(1 words)

ACCEPTABILITY – Food products
Provide an assessment (using industry standards and existing research) that the food outputs of your technology are likely to meet the acceptability target. This assessment should include appearance, aroma, palatability, flavor, and texture.
(Word limit: 500)
Response:


(1 words)

Response box for additional comments on Acceptability / Palatability (Word limit: 200)
Response:


(1 words)

2.4.2 SAFETY *
NOTE: Designs that fail to account for pathogens (for both process and food products) will receive a "fail" score in the safety category.
SAFETY – Process
Describe the safety of the food production process, including any potential operational risks for the technology; indicate how they may be mitigated on a three-year mission. Describe relevant food safety procedures.
(Word limit: 500)
Response:
Risks may include
death of the BSF larva colony – mitigated by keeping frozen BSF eggs available
(16 words)

SAFETY – Food products
Describe the safety of the resulting food products, including safety for repeated human consumption.
(Word limit: 500)
Response:

The BSF nutrient water contains it's own compliment of beneficial bacteria (thought to be similar to that of earthworms), while research has shown these beneficial bacteria reduce e-coli and salmonella if they exist. Most vegetables do not touch the nutrient water (harvested from plant stems), while root crops do come into contact with the nutrient water. Concerns about this can be addressed by peeling the vegetable &/or cooking it (carrots, onions, etc).
(72 words)

Response box for additional comments on Safety (Word limit: 200)
Response:

Even NASA has determined that a 100% sterile environment for humans in the long term is very likely detrimental to humans. This system inherently includes natural processes which includes bacteria.
(30 words)

2.4.3 RESOURCE INPUTS & OUTPUTS *
Describe the resource requirements of the food production process (inputs) and all outputs. Estimated quantities of each input and output should be provided:
INPUTS to the technology
• Physicochemical/material inputs
• Water
• Energy
• Other inputs
(Word limit: 500)
Response:
Inputs include primarily food waste (and possibly humanure), BSF eggs, water, heat, and plant lighting. Previous research has been done on hydroponic water use, plant lighting, etc. in order to grow plants in space.
(34 words)

OUTPUTS from the technology
• Food products
• Waste
• Heat (Latent and Sensible)
• Other outputs or benefits
(Word limit: 500)
Response:

Any desired plant based foods can be grown and harvested. Waste include hard/woody plant stems, leaves, etc. (terrestrial use these could be composted for zero waste). The BSF larva do produce some heat during their life processes, if ambient temp is 80 degrees, the compost bin may reach lower/mid 90's. Unlike typical thermophilic composting, which releases methane, BSF composting releases no (known) gasses. BSF composting recycles 100% of non-woody/hard edible waste.
(72 words)

Describe how the food production technology achieves the greatest amount of food output in relation to the quantity of inputs and quantity of waste output.
(Word limit: 250)

Response:

Since the nutrients created by the BSF are recycled in a hydroponic system, those nutrients are retained until take up by a plant.
(24 words)

Describe the nutritional quality of the resulting food products:
• Macronutrients
• Micronutrients
• Variety of Nutrients
(Word limit: 500)
Response:

The nutritional quality and nutrient variety of products grown in a BSF hydroponic system is greater than that of chemical hydroponic and of soil based growing systems. BSF are known to have their own compliment of beneficial bacteria, at the same time proven to reduce e-coli and salmonella if they exist. These beneficial bacteria increase the plant vigor and product healthfulness.
(62 words)

Response box for additional comments on Resource Inputs & Outputs (Word limit: 200)

Response:

It should be clear before now that this system does require outside food waste inputs. Any non-earth food crop system must supply enough food to have excess/waste. If explorers only grow enough that they eat 100% of their crop, this seems to imply they are right on the cusp of starvation if there is the slightest hiccup.
(57 words)

2.4.4 RELIABILITY / STABILITY *
RELIABILITY – Process
Describe how the food production technology can reliably perform its intended function. You may include:
  • Operational lifespan (i.e., how long is the solution designed to last?)
  • Whether there is less than 10% loss of functionality or food production
  • Maintenance processes and procedures
    • Maintenance schedule (i.e., how often will it need maintenance?)
    • Component/element maintenance or replacement (i.e., what components will need to be replaced, and when?)
    • Critical spare parts for a three-year mission

Response box (Word limit: 500)
Response:
The system does not have any expected end of life beyond the physical hardware used – small water pump, aerator, hydroponic system, etc. There is no expected loss in food production – as long as there are inputs. As with any system in this DSFC, at some point if used in a closed loop (no inputs from earth), there will be a peak-inputs time, after which the inputs will decrease.
(70 words)

STABILITY
Describe the stability of both the input products used and food product outputs.  Description should include the estimated time the inputs and outputs will be fit for use and/or consumption (i.e., shelf-life).
Response box (Word limit: 250)
Response:

There are no shelf-life product issues with this system since inputs and outputs are both fresh food products. Seeds for future crops can be harvested from plants, BSF eggs are able to be frozen, both allow for long term backup supplies.
(41 words)

Response box for additional comments on Reliability / Stability (Word limit: 200)
Response:

Challenges do exist for non-terrestrial system use:
Radiation may affect the viability of BSF eggs and beneficial bacteria.
Lack of surplus food inputs in transit (packaged 100% consumed foods, see ending notes on humanure)
(33 words)

2.5 TERRESTRIAL POTENTIAL *
Describe how the food production technology may have the potential to improve terrestrial food production*
Response box (Word limit: 500)
Response:
This system has the most potential and least challenges when installed on terrestrial locations. One of the issues with any crop production system is that the explorers will take with them 100% of all the nutrients they will need for their entire time off-earth. Energy is never created or destroyed, just transformed, similarly, nutrients will be the same (the dirt on Mars has little to no nutrients and other issues) so the explorers would need to take with them 100% of their nutrient needs for the entire duration off-earth. This also means that they will need to recycle absolutely as much of the available sources of nutrients as possible. Any failure to do so will likely mean their mission will fail - unless it's short enough that they can take 100% of their nutrient supply/food with them.
BSF also can recycle humanure to significantly contribute to the nutrient life-cycle, however, this proposal does not address this potential since it would be a separate additional system. Note however, that during space travel, if the challenges to operating a BSF food production system are too great, that operating a humanure BSF system during transit can facilitate eventual terrestrial food production (up to 90% reduction in volume, maintain BSF population, etc). While humans generall don't like to think of our own bodies as “recyclable”, if there were any human/animal deaths, even this could easily/rapidly be recycled in the BSF system.
(236 words)

2.6 SUPPORTING MATERIAL *
2.6.1 Include any visual representations Include any visual representations of the food production technology, which may include models, schematics, or drawings (Maximum five (5) 8.5” x 11” pages).
Link to PDF document
Response:
Poster of the basic premise
(11 words)

2.6.2 Optional: Include any preliminary data or calculations Include any preliminary data or calculations that support the design and operation of the food production technology. (Maximum two (2) 8.5” x 11” pages)
Link to PDF document
Response:

(1 words)

3. Design Animation *
Submit a design animation (5-minute maximum length) showing the food production technology under operation (simulation) and include the following elements:
• Setup
• Operations from a user perspective
• Inputs and outputs
• Shutdown and cleaning
Link to video
Response:

(1 words)

4. Intellectual Property *
• Who owns the intellectual property of the proposed solution? Explain.
• Is your Team part of an organization?
• Is the solution built on existing or off-the-shelf technology? If so, detail the permissions (if applicable) you have to use that technology.
Response box (Word limit: 300)
Response:
Using the BSF in this manner is an original idea of the team leader. While the team leader did build an example system on the University of Hawaii at Hilo campus at the request of UH, the system was not improved upon in any manner, and so UH has no claim to this technology in any way. The system thus far has been constructed with off the shelf components, but likely an in-transit system would be custom designed and built.
(80 words)