How about Micro-biospheres?

edited May 2016 in Everything else
This is the spin off of the Brainstorming thread started by @Cassox.

I'm gonna get a bit chatty here, because this is something I think about a lot. Also, everyone has different levels of understanding about some things so I'm writing it out long hand instead of making assumptions.

The general idea as outlined is the creation of a fairly closed loop system that can provide for a human. I say fairly closed not only because leaving and returning to the system was mentioned in the seed thread, but also because small closed systems are inherently loss-y and tend toward being unbalanced easily (we won't even delve into loss through heat, material leaching, solar bleach and breakdown, etc). 

Let's take aquaponics for instance. A large (300gal) tank with a full set of plants has more wiggle room than say, the 10 gallon tank in my apartment. When a fish dies in 300gal, the amount of ammonia, nitrates, and nitrites are fairly small in comparison to the volume of the water. The amount of bacteria used to break down the stuff that kill your fish (mostly Nitrosomonas sp.), will be large, due to the mass of growth media (your porous rocks that house your bacteria). A dead fish in the 10gal spells instant doom within a day, not only killing the fish, but poisoning the water and killing the plants and stinking up my apartment.

This means the system needs to be large enough to fail a little bit and then recover.  Since it was mentioned in the seed thread and since I mentioned nitrogen and nitrogen like things, let's talk about waste and compartmentalization.

People love boxes. Boxes are nifty to us because they allow us to control an environment. Boxes in science are extra great because they allow optimization of a system during an experiment. I'm sure many of you have heard of microfluidics. Optimal compartmentalization.
I believe in a biome system,compartmentalization needs to be... very generally used. Microfluidics, awesome. Clean rooms, awesome. Biosafety hoods, awesome. All of these systems work well, but only for a short period of time and in a singular capacity. After use they need to be wiped and sterilized. This goes back to the closed system issues mentioned above.

Now we can't be wiping our biome every time we need to adjust something. I'm sure many people have read about the issues of using broad spectrum antibiotics causally or some of our more... aggressive farming methods. The earth is a very big box, but it is still a box, and repeated wipes tend to lead to some really unpleasant situations.

In a really broad systems biology perspective, most species are not really units. The panda bear is not a a lovable fluffball that you can clone and drop anywhere you want. It's the front end for an ecosystem. If there are no bamboos for it to eat and if the temperature is wrong, it will die. Also, it makes waste as well. Animals and bacteria break down that waste so we're not wading in panda shit, hair and skin flakes. The panda is your interactive face of the environment around it.

This is that direction that I am looking at this particular issue from. To that regard, we need integrated systems, and lots of things low on the tropic level, just to keep things from getting super icky.

HERE are two pictures snapped from an old hippie book about having a low footprint homestead. The first one is about greywater recycling. Lot's of people do this now, in some capacity, where their dishwater and laundry water get poured into a yard. This method is just more compact. Note the grey cylinders. This is one of the costs of compartmentalization. If dumped directly onto dirt, your particulate materials act as compost. In solution, they act as crap the tangles up the roots and causes eventual rot and infection. If you need to keep making or buying filters for your system, it's not very stable. Ideally you want to be able to ignore this for a week without it collapsing, not create an entire job out of turning compost, watering stuff, cleaning filters. Things learned from previous work...

I see a full run looking like this.
Stage one, waste is ground up. All the waste, even meat. Don't worry.
Stage two is waste is moved into an anaerobic chamber to undergo fermentation break down using bokashi and other microbe colonies. This get's us through the "meat and lipids make my compost suck" stage. Save your gasses off the airlock, they can be used elsewhere..
Stage three is filtering this into an aerated water supply. It's going to need to be large enough absorb the waste from one person without turning toxic, so maybe we need to sit down and figure out how much waste one person makes in a day.  Someone get some gloves, some baggies, and a bedpan...
This aerated water supply looks like the two left chambers of the second drawing. Planted here would be plants on the NASA list of 'plants to use in space travel'. Hardy, not actually edible, and great at creating oxygen and removing toxins from the air and water. Mother in Law tongue is the one I always remember. This tank should also have a spread of extra small shrimps and other micro animals. They are not for eats. They are for breaking crap down more. This tank is also compost. It will not smell like flowers. Lot's of things don't smell like flowers. Maybe have a lid on this.
Stage four is our food plants. I don't have a list of the best plants for this. Let's mention algae as one, and put a pin in this.
At this point we split. Some of this water goes to fish for protein, and some of this water goes to water... for yknow, water.
The fish water get's looped back to Step One, the people water get's distilled at this point.
The reason that distillation doesn't occur at step one is because it's way too much work. All our other things need the stuff we distilled out, so we would just have to add it back. That increases steps and leads to unbalance. Reduce loss through integrated systems.  This is a modified version of picture one but instead of wash bins like some nutty hippy whose system is going to eventually go septic, we have a stack of freight cars.

Speaking of septic, this is basically the concept that septic tanks work on. This is just the controlled and scaled version.




  • This is, of course, not really grindy at all. This is just infrastructural work.

    To optimize this system, reduce rate of exchange, etc, I would suggest forced evolution. In this model, we are only dealing with bacteria.

    Example: You have this bacteria. It can kinda eat styrofoam, but not really well. Better than most, but if there is a carrot on the floor, it goes for the carrot, not coffee cup. Easy carbon vs polymerized materials.

    Let's call carrot, glucose, and coffee cup, polystyrene. What you would need is a system for forcing the bacteria to break down more PS than it does glucose. So you start with a vat of bacteria (bioreactor) and you feed it 90/10 glu/PS. When the growth plateaus, you change to 80/20, wait for the ones who can't handle it to die, and then get to another plateau. Repeat until you are working with 99 PS as your carbon source, and voila, you have a bacteria that has been beaten into eating big mac containers.

    This applies to this work in as much as you want to reduce the time that waste gets turned into useful things as much as possible. Otherwise you just have giant vats of slurry sitting around. This is why people use fertilizer instead of manure. It's fast and controlled.

    You could run series of experiments working to reduce certain difficult things (like cellulose and lipids) by sampling from the above system, pressuring them through a bioreactor, and then reintroducing them back into the system.
  • Have you looked into off grid life styles? There are lots of people like that who could add more than I could. Word of warning some of those people have more than a few lose screws.
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