The New Life Capsule
The New Life Capsule
The New Life Capsule diagram
What it does
The outflow from the microalgae and fungi cultivated in the New Life Capsule has a high content of biogenic elements, which will intensify humus formation in soil and improve conditions for plant growth.
We were concerned that humankind is continuously occupying or degrading more and more of the Earth's surface, thus reducing the area available for cultivating plants. Moreover, gradually rising temperatures are creating more desert and semi-desert areas. Soils without vegetation intensify the greenhouse effect by releasing carbon into the atmosphere. To address this problem, we came up with the idea that the nutrient-rich outflow from the New Life Capsule could support plant cultivation in unfavorable conditions. Also, the microorganisms in the Capsule could be grown on wastewater, which would be a new method of managing this waste.
How it works
The New Life Capsule treats wastewater by using it to cultivate microalgae and fungi. Microalgae and fungi can grow symbiotically because microalgae produce oxygen during photosynthesis, which allows fungi to grow, and fungi produce carbon dioxide during metabolism, which allows microalgae to grow. Excess microalgae biomass is also consumed by the fungi for growth. The outflow from the Capsule is treated (i.e., environmentally friendly) wastewater, plus overgrowth of microalgae cells and fungi, which will release nutrients to the soil over a long time span. The New Life Capsule has two reactors, one for microalgae growth and the other for fungi growth. The reactors are connected for exchange of gases and nutrients. For microalgae growth, one reactor has a light source powered by a photovoltaic panel. Above the reactors is a tank for mixing the wastewater. Below the reactors is drainage for the nutrient-rich outflow, which is introduced to the soil.
The scientists at our Institute have conducted research with microalgae for many years. We were intrigued by the fact that microalgae need carbon dioxide and produce oxygen, whereas fungi produce carbon dioxide and need oxygen. The potential of such a symbiotic interaction between these microorganisms led us to create a plan for a prototype of the New Life Capsule. Together with the members of the Environmental Engineering Science Club, we received funding as part of the 2018 Rector's Student Grant to investigate the possibility of creating an innovative reactor with an internal carbon dioxide supply. Within a few months, we had constructed a device for simultaneously cultivating microalgae and fungi and producing a nutrient-rich outflow with high potential for improving plant growth. We subsequently obtained a protection right for a utility model from the Patent Office of the Republic of Poland for this “Device for organic biomass production with internal carbon dioxide supply”.
How it is different
The New Life Capsule uniquely addresses environmental, technical and economic concerns. To begin with, the reactor does not require external sources of energy and carbon dioxide, thanks to the photovoltaic cell and fungi, which produce carbon dioxide for microalgae. These innovations decrease the impact on the environment and reduce costs, as supplying carbon dioxide is a significant expense when operating such reactors. Moreover, the microorganisms are grown on wastewater, which means that this pollutant is treated in a cost-effective manner. Finally, the outflow from the Capsule has a high content of fertilizing nutrients, which help to form humus in the soil and improve and maintain its fertility. This will enable plants to be cultivated in areas that have been degraded by humans and in other difficult environments. Cultivating plants in these areas will help to increase biodiversity and prevent the release of carbon dioxide, thus reducing global warming.
Further work on the New Life Capsule will focus on the fertilization of desert and barren areas with analyses of the efficiency of soil fertilization and plant cultivation. Additionally, the potential application of this technology in extraterrestrial colonies, e.g., on Mars or the Moon, will be investigated in experiments with soils that simulate the ones on these extraterrestrial bodies. Various types of wastewater will be compared as solutions of nutrients for the microorganisms. Finally, the obtained biomass can be used for methane production or for lipid extraction and biodiesel production, which will also be areas of further research.