Algae-Based Printer Ink As the Way to Foster In-Situ
Resource Utilization in Habitation Structures
Sasakawa International Center for Space Architecture, Houston, TX, 77004
Nearly all studies regarding the 3D printing of habitation on celestial bodies such as Moon
and Mars to date focus on a mined filler for a 3D printer. This essay proposes the most feasible
long-term habitat will consist of a 3D printed mixture of algae and regolith, which allows for
building structures to be capable to withstand their extreme environments without the
intensive mining and sifting required to make said habitable structures. Unlike regolith-
derived filler which will need site-specific processing for use, in-situ grown algae is a controlled
biological media and is cultivated in a laboratory. The utilization of algae off-Earth is not
limited to a singular application and its cultivation would allow for a substantial yield of
products, and local micro and macro environmental benefits. Algae biomass is high in protein
and has natural thermoplastic qualities that allows biopolymers processing, additionally it can
be converted into many everyday consumables including clothing. Furthermore, algae affords
easier and safer production of pressurized structures in-situ saving time and costs of heavy
and bulky infrastructure transportation, and tools and clothing delivery from Earth. In
conclusion, the paper presents discussion on benefits and complications of algae production
and utilization processing, required infrastructure and associated challenges. Nevertheless,
algae is not a short-term solution but is the best potential approach for establishing long-term
habitation on the Moon and Mars.
One of the major challenges for creating Mars settlements is the lack of existing infrastructure there. Launching
large structures from Earth is not practical due to cost penalties and complexity. A possible solution for this problem
is application of native or in situ resources that are available in Martian soil and atmosphere. In-situ algae production
can become a valuable addition to strategies for permanent surface habitation. Why algae? The algae grow by
absorbing carbon dioxide and producing starch that can be used as a raw material for bioplastics or binding agents
production. Oxygen, which is a discarded product of the process, provides clean air that is vital for Mars colonization.
Algae grows in water tanks that may be used for radiation shielding. Furthermore, algae can grow in any type of water
and do not require freshwater resources. Eventually, algae consume carbon dioxide and emit oxygen as they grow, so
they help reduce the total amount of CO2 in the habitat’s atmosphere.
Algae’s ability to sequester carbon dioxide pumped from the Martian atmosphere into cellulose that can be
processed into biopolymers, allows massive structures to be constructed in situ on Martian surface either as a
polymeric binder agent to regolith or as a polymer building structure itself. It saves time and costs of transporting
heavy and bulky infrastructure, tools, and other essentials from Earth. Algae’s ability to manage waste by recycling
nutrients extends its benefits in addition to oxygen production from Martian water and carbon dioxide. Oils produced
by the algae could also be processed into high-density biofuels that could be used as rocket fuel or to power fuel cells
with a minimal use of oxygen for powering high power mobile equipment such as vehicles and mining equipment.
Natural biopolymers produced by algae, such as cellulose and sodium alginate, can be processed into a great variety
of other biopolymers that can be used to 3D print biodegradable fabrics for clothing, bedding, furniture. The
biodegradation of these algae based fabrics allow them to be recycled naturally.
Master’s Student, Sasakawa International Center for Space Architecture
II. Functional Flow Block Diagrams (FFBDs)
The Functional Flow Block Diagram expresses the steps needed to establish a greenhouse or lab to grow and
produce algae (see Fig. 1). In level 1, the Pre-Launch Operations, are expressed in standardized terms and not
elaborated upon as there is no need for variation of such. Level 2, Surface Operations, takes place from Level 1 due
to the significant explanation needed within its confines in order to define the point of these FFBDs, which is to
understand the steps needed to get to grow, process, and print with algae off Earth. Level 3 contains duel levels
happening simultaneously; the first are Surface Missions and the second is Habitation Systems. The Surface Missions
(Ref. 4.4) dialogue the exterior missions are shown in a lighter shade. The interior missions, in a darker shade, start
with Level 3’s Habitation System, which outlines the steps necessary to begin the Surface Missions. These steps
include executing HVAC Systems, Establish a Farm (Ref. 4.3.2), and maintenance of both of these steps which allow
for the Surface Missions to be carried out. These Surface Missions are necessary to the mission. Geological Sampling
(Ref. 4.4.1), would enable decisive use in the future if when regolith is needed, as to where to extract this resource
from. Water Documentation & Sampling (Ref. 4.4.2), are vital to a long-term habitation off Earth, and a necessity for
both humans and the plants, in addition to the algae that will further sustain their existence.
Fig. 1 Functional Flow Block Diagram.
Establishing a Farm is outlined in Level 4 (Ref. 4.3.2). As water is perceived to be a crucial element to life, the
main form of farming is aeroponics as it uses up to ninety five percent less water. The growing of algae comes second
to the main farm (Ref. 184.108.40.206), as it is not a critical life support system, maintenance of said farms follows until
enough algae is grown to begin processing and experimenting (Ref. 220.127.116.11). The Algae Experiments (Ref. 18.104.22.168)
include waste management, structural printing, extraterrestrial environmental scenarios, and radiation resistance.
Waste management comes first as algae is known as water filtration, additionally, it will absorb the nutrients of
compost creating a symbiotic relationship with the farm. Structural Printing (Ref. 22.214.171.124.2), which is one of the main
algae-based missions are unfeasible as the future long term habitats will be comprised of an algae regolith mixture.
This operation will conclude if the algae can maintain integrity in the alien environment, or to ensure the integrity it
necessitates supplements. Executing a Carbon Negative and Neutrality of Extraterrestrial Environment scenarios (Ref.
126.96.36.199.3) will define how well the algae farm works in conjunction with the interior habitat environment, as well as
the effects of the algae in the extraterrestrial environment. Just as concrete off gasses and intakes gasses, in foreign
environments the algae printing compound may behave in ways that are not predictable. This scenario allows for the
understanding of future maintenance and repair, as well as the expectable equipment and timelines.
The last interior executed missions are the Radiation Resistance Absorption Scenarios (Ref. 188.8.131.52.4), which will
examine the degradation of solar radiation or enhancement of upon the bioplastic material created from algae that is
the 3D printed long-term extraterrestrial habitat. This mission tests the effects of irradiation and radiation on the algae
bioplastic. Irradiation is the current processes of PLA bioplastic as a way to sterilize it. What was learned in this
process are that the cross linked aggregates (CLA) of bioplastic when irradiated gain tensile strength, tensile
elongation, a vast amount of flexural strength, impact strength, some gaining of at what temperature they soften, and
loose a small percentage of nominal breaking elongation (see Fig. 2).
Fig. 2 Effects of Irradiation on PLA 
III. Concept of Operations
The Concept of Operations focuses on outlining the main phases associated with a Martian mission, which strives
toward establishing and building an algae farm, and 3D printing bioplastic algae based in-situ habitats. It outlines
major milestones and phases needed for a long-term settlement.
Fig. 3 Concept of Operations (ConOps)
Pro-Launch Operations includes information gathered and assessed from previous missions, dictate
requirements of crew and architecture. Training of crew, design, development, and build of structures needed for
the mission. Timeline and redundancies built in both timeline, infrastructure and crew training. Launch Operations
pertain to rocket preparations and tests. The launch of propulsion craft and subsequently crew and their habitat. The
Transfer to Martian Surface involves the rendezvous with propulsion craft, lunar assist, and deployment of an L3
communication satellite. Separation from Martian orbiting craft and deployment and lading on Martian surface.
Lagrange point three communication satellite offsets communication disruption caused by the Sun eclipsing Mars.
Surface Operations better expressed in the FFBDs set up and build out of habitat and establishing a perimeter.
Connection to Martian Satellite to monitor weather changes. The Earth Return encompasses a launch from the
Martian surface and reconnection to Martian orbiting craft. Then a cruise to Earth detachment from craft and ascent
to a landing zone. Mission Operations present as obtaining geological samples and documentation to better
comprehend geologic makeup of surrounding habitation zones. Specifically, for ice, biologics, and resources for
future missions. Perform algae printing scenarios of both everyday items and larger habitats, as well as algae
experiments to understand usable, decomposition, and growth rate of algae on Mars. Set up and document
astrological phenomena as noted from Mars. Execute markers for a greater understanding of gravity locations and
variances on Mars. Post Flight Activity is to record, document samples, and gathered data for further examination
and execution for future missions.
Operational timelines are negotiable as this algae-based bioplastic structure is still theoretical. Pro-Launch
Operations and Launch Operations are rightly unschedulable as numerous missions will be needed to first analyze
the environment of Mars is still needed. Based off of NASA timelines the author project a Transfer to Martian
Surface to be six months, Surface Operations to be eighteen months, and the Earth Return to be six months. These
fall well within the two and a half year opportunity cycle of distance between Earth and Mars. However, the author
believes that constant maintenance and growth of the farm and algae farm are vital in order to be maintained as
IV. Algae Biomass Applications
Algae are tiny biological factories that use photosynthesis to transform carbon dioxide and sunlight into energy
so efficiently that they can double their weight several times a day. As part of the photosynthesis process algae produce
oil and can generate 15 times more oil per acre than other plants used for biofuels, such as corn and switchgrass .
The built environment is responsible for around 40 to 50% of total greenhouse gas emissions through fossil fuel
consumption. Not only is it necessary to design and to retrofit our built environment to be more energy efficient, but
it is also necessary to consider alternative fuel sources .
Nowadays, algae are mostly biodiesel production utilized due to their high lipid content. Since bioethanol
production from conventional feedstock is considered for emitting more greenhouse gases than fossil fuels in
consequence of the production steps and applications during the process, algal bioethanol production can overcome
these problems. In comparison with conventional feedstocks, algal production areas don’t occupy agricultural lands
and they needn’t any fertilizer for cultivation. With these advantages and significant carbohydrate content, higher
ethanol yields are obtained from algae. In table 2, ethanol yield values from different feedstocks including first and
second generations are given .
Ethanol yield values from different feedstocks 
Although it depends on the raw material which is used, ethanol production has three main steps: to obtain
fermentable sugars, conversion of sugars to ethanol via fermentation process and distillation and purification of
B. Radiation Shielding
Presented as a one of proposals for NIAC in 2013, Water Walls is a concept for a largely passive life support
system, centered on the application of forward osmosis membranes to replace the large, complex, and failure-prone
machines than now perform these functions. In the present integration, these functions include: Block 1)
humidity control, Block 2) volatile organic compound destruction, Block 3) use of algae and cyanobacteria for CO2
removal, O2 production, and nutritional supplement, and Block 4) Urine and graywater processing,
solids/blackwater treatment, and energy generation. WW provides four principal functions of processing cells in
four different types plus the common function of radiation shielding .
Fig. 4 Water Walls Integrated Module 
C. Water Purification
Algae consume nitrates and phosphates and reduce bacteria and toxins in the water. Also, it removes heavy metals.
D. Nutrients / Food
Nowadays, micro-algae are marketed as dietary supplements (tablets, capsules, and powders) and promoted as
“superfoods,” added to lattes, smoothies, and even cookies and chips. The supplements are touted as virtual cure-alls,
to improve cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, cognitive, and immunological health; relieve arthritis pain, premenstrual
syndrome, and hay fever; and boost energy. They are even supposed to reduce skin wrinkling and other signs of aging
E. Clothes, furniture
Fibers processed from algae could also be used to make fabrics for clothing, bedding, furniture, and more. The
biodegradation of these algae based fabrics allow them to be recycled naturally.
Depending on the type of biopolymers produced, structures or tools could be designed with eventual
biodegradation and natural recycling in mind for an infrastructure that can grow and evolve to suit changing needs
without producing excess waste. 3D biopolymer printed modular infrastructure. Infrastructure can be designed using
generative design to produce biomimicking structures with maximum strength and minimal mass. The infrastructure
(see Fig 5) is assembled around the core from interlocking units, 3d printed from biopolymers, to form a growing
interior that fills the vacancies left by the growing dome. Since the infrastructure is made of biopolymers that are
processed from the cellulose harvested from carbon dioxide, the mass of the infrastructure is ultimately derived from
the Martian atmosphere.
Fig. 5 A Habitat where interior is made by converting algae into biopolymer whereas the mixture of
regolith and algae-made binder performs well as a wall
I. Synthesis of Polymer from Martian in situ resources
There are two ways of algae polymer production on Mars. First, it is a synthesis of an algal-based biopolymer.
Second, it is using a microreactor technology with mechanical vapor recompression, and algae-produced ethanol to
make ethylene. The consideration is built upon either to produce a biopolymer or polyethylene depending on the
expectations of use it.
The cultivation of algae biomass and production of biopolymers are carried out in two stages: first stage in which
algae growth is initiated and a second stage in which biopolymer is carried to completion. Biodegradable plastics take
three to six months to decompose fully so biopolymers are only feasible in inner applications of Martian habitat such
as kitchen appliances, clothes, tools. Due to biopolymers are not recyclable, but only biodegradable, it tends to not
mix it with other materials like regolith. Clothes can be made by extrusion cellulose from algae converting into rayon
fibers. The synthesis of biopolymer from algae (Spirulina platensis) does not need a reaction, only using chemicals to
extract polymers. The rest of Spirulina biomass can be used as a food or being extracted into bioplastic called PHB
polymer (polyhydroxybutyrate). Consequently, this polymer might be produced into ethylene with prospective
convertating into Ultra-high-molecular-weight polyethylene.
V. Producing Ethylene from Algae
Ethylene is the primary component in most plastics, making it economically valuable. It is produced primarily by
steam-cracking of hydrocarbons, but can alternatively be produced by the dehydration of ethanol, which can be
produced from fermentation processes using renewable substrates such as glucose, starch and others .
The amount of ethylene produced in the laboratory is 35 milligrams per liter per hour. Researchers strive to reach
50 milligrams . According to the paper called “Multifunctional Martian habitat composite material synthesized
from in situ resources”, the most efficient fabrication of a composite material using simulated Martian regolith with
ethylene as the binding material with a ratio of 60 wt% JSC-1 Mars stimulant + 40 wt% UHMWPE binder.
The in-situ resources required to produce polymers such as Algae Polymer is available in the Martian atmosphere
and biomass from Martian greenhouses.
As a first step, C₂H₃OH can be produced by fermentation of C₂H₄ (1).
Fermentation is a process that based on disciplines of chemistry, biochemistry and microbiology and which
fermentable sugars are converted to ethanol by microorganisms . The process consists of the conversion of glucose
to alcohol and carbon dioxide. The overall reaction for producing C₂H₄ (UHMWPE) from the algae biomass and CO₂
can be written as (2), (3).
С₆H₁₂O₆ → 2C₂H₅OH +2CO₂ (1)
C₂H₆OH+HA→ C₂H₄+H₂O+HA (2)
C₂H₄→ (C₂H₄)ₙ (3)
The output here is UHMWPE, where in combination with regolith particles can find its applications in building
structures, infrastructure, vehicles and mining equipment.
The potential for development of a multifunctional composite for Martian habitat structure from in situ resources
was demonstrated. The author analyzed the different perspectives of algae use and came up with that converting algae
into biopolymer has its applications only in an indoor situation whereas algae-made polyethylene performs well within
the severe environment of Mars. This project showed the long-term in-situ produced habitat consisted of a 3D printed
mixture of algae and regolith, which allows for building structures to be capable to withstand their extreme
environments without the intensive mining and sifting required to make said habitats habitable. Our unknowns, the
structural stability, the decomposition rate in foreign environments, and the maintenance can be overcome and
quantified within the next few years as bioplastic makes a greater impact in the economy. The major concerns of the
application of algae in situ of time and equipment are negated by the projected economic and radiation longevity of
the algae composite habitat. The technology is new, but not unknown. To provide a long term off Earth habitat, it will
need to utilize in-situ resources that are easily manipulated and the outcomes are predictable. Algae is the best possible
resource to utilize as a structural, object, and textile due to its many innate properties that allow for a multitude of
The author would like to thank the Sasakawa International Center for Space Architecture, especially Kriss
Kennedy and Olga Bannova for their guidance.
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