Moon Miner


Biomaterials in Space

Space farms can supply more than food. Useful substances can be made from crops. One of the first things we can think of are vegetable oils. Many vegetable oils are used to make paints, lubricants, hydraulic fluid, soaps, skin products, candles, perfumes and other personal care and cosmetic products. Oils can be pressed out of algae, soybeans, corn, sunflower seeds, cotton seeds, hemp seeds, flax seeds (linseed oil), jojoba seeds and castor beans. Using these oils for industry will take carbon out of the CELSS loop so we will have to add some CO2 from polar ice or solar wind implanted volatiles mining to the habitat atmosphere to maintain CO2. levels for plants and algae.

Soap can be made by reacting oils with strong bases like sodium hydroxide (lye) or potassium hydroxide. Animal fats can also be used to make soap. The base reacts with oils and fats to form glycerin and salts of stearic, palmitic and oleic fatty acids.

(C17H35COO)3C3H5 + 3 NaOH ==> 3 C17H35COONa + C3H5(OH)3
       Glyceryl Stearate                                               Sodium stearate             Glycerin

Soap is separated from glycerin and water by adding NaCl. This causes the soap to "salt out." It floats on top of the glycerin and water and forms a crust that is removed, dried and pressed into cakes. Glycerin can be used for lotions, cough syrups, elixirs and expectorants, toothpaste, mouthwashes, skin care products, shaving cream, hair care products, soaps, and water-based personal lubricants. Glycerin is also used in blood banking to preserve red blood cells prior to freezing  See:  

Vegetable oils are biodegradable and have high flash points. They also oxidize easily. Castor oil is more resistant to oxidation than other vegetable oils. Castor oil and its derivatives are used in the manufacturing of soaps, lubricants, hydraulic and brake fluids, paints, dyes, coatings, inks, cold resistant plastics, waxes and polishes, nylon, pharmaceuticals and perfumes. Hydraulic and brake fluids will not be exposed to oxygen or high temperatures so the lack of oxidative stability for vegetable oils is less problematic in these applications. Jojoba oil or wax has better oxidation resistance than most vegetable oils but not as much as castor oil. In 1943, natural resources of the U.S, including jojoba oil, were used during war as additives to motor oil, transmission oil and differential gear oil. Machine guns were lubricated and maintained with jojoba.

Bioplastics can also be made. Polylactic Acid (PLA) is the most common bioplastic today. It is made by fermenting corn starch or sugar to make lactic acid which is then polymerized sometimes with the help of a zeolite catalyst.  The main shortcoming of PLA is its low glass transition temperature.  This is the temperature at which it will transform from a rigid or glass-like substance to a soft and viscous material.  For PLA this happens at 111 F. to 145 F.  Boiling hot drinks or a hot car in the summer could cause it to soften and deform.  PLA melts at 157 C. to 170 C. or 315 F. to 338 F.  PLA is biodegradable and compostible.

For more information on the production of PLA see: 

Corn starch can be extracted by milling, grinding, washing and drying corn kernels. Starch can be mixed with water, glycerin and acetic acid then heated to form a bioplastic similar to PLA that can be poured into molds.  Agar extracted from algae can be mixed with water and glycerin in a similar manner to produce  bioplastic.  Alternatively potato starch can be used. Potato starch is easier to make than corn starch. Simply grate some potatoes. Soak them in water. Strain off the water and let the solution dry leaving starch. 


Paper can be made from almost any kind of plant fiber. Rice, hemp, straw, peanut shells and perhaps other plants can serve as fiber sources. Paper can be recycled basically the same way it is made.


With paper available, artists may desire paint.  Paint can be made with mixtures of flour, salt, water, sometimes egg yolks, vegetable dyes and minerals like sulfur for yellow, iron oxide for rust, cobalt for blue. Milk can also be reacted with lime (CaO) to make paint. Many DIY paint making websites exist.

Cotton, flax and hemp can be cultivated to make clothing worn next to the skin. When clothes wear out they can be ripped and recycled and even composted. Basalt fiber cloth is actually rather smooth unlike glass fiber and can be used to make outerwear.  There are other sources of materials for clothing, shoes and accessories.  A completely vegan substitute for leather can be made from fungus mycelium grown on agricultural wastes and byproducts called Mylo.™  


Bolt Threads, the company that makes Mylo™ also makes fibers from spider silk protein obtained from genetically pogrammed yeast called Microsilk.™


Vats of fungal mycelium and yeast will free up space farm area that would otherwise be used for cotton, hemp, flax, etc. This will also be far more practical than herding cattle for hides in space or on the Moon and Mars. 

Bamboo is a useful fast growing crop.  Some species can grow 36 inches in 24 hours.  Bamboo can be used to reinforce concrete, has been used traditionally for medicine in Asia,  can be used instead of wood to build houses and schools, and shoots can feed people and animals. It can be used to make furniture, rugs, toys, kitchen utensils, beer and muscial insturments like flutes and drums.  Bamboo can make flooring, writing surfaces, pulp for paper making, fishing poles, and filters that can remove salt from seawater.  Such filters might be used in reverse osmosis pumps that work to control water salinity in Closed Ecological Life Support Systems or CELSS. 

More information is available at:  

It has been claimed that bamboo can make cloth for bedding, clothing, accessories and diapers. However, according to Wikipedia, the FTC and the Canadian Competition Bureau bamboo textiles are actually rayon made from bamboo treated with harsh chemicals.  Bamboo textiles are not made of natural fibers, but bamboo is a good source of cellulose for rayon if that is desired.  See: 

Many drugs and medicines can be made from plants.  Atropine, codeine, cocaine, caffeine, digitalis, ephedrine, quinine, morphine, reserpine and many other drugs/medicines come from plants.  Extracts can be made with water, ethanol or glycerin. See:   

One of the most sought after biomaterials will be ethanol in the form of beer, wine and liqour.  Pure concentrated ethanol can be used as an antiseptic and a solvent.  It's just a matter of fermentation and distillation.  

Toxic chemicals in a closed environment must be avoided.  Aerosol spray cans are out.  Roll ons and pump sprays for things like deodorants and perfumes could be used exclusively.  Perfumes can be made from essential oils from roses, lavender, jasmine, carnations, chamomile, etc. These oils can be extracted with water, ethanol or vegetable oil.  Many DIY natural perfume making websites exist. 

Vegetable dyes can also be used for clothing.  Red cabbages will make purple, onions will make yellow/orange, coffee grounds will make brown, and strawberries will make pink. Salt or vinegar (dilute acetic acid) can be used as fixatives (mordants).  Two good DIY websites can be found here:                         

For those interested in space farms, terraforming, closed cycle farming and zero-g/microgravity farming you must see Bryce L. Meyer's excellent space farm, terraforming and space habitats page at: