back to article Ass-troplastic! Printing parts from p.. er... human waste

Researchers reckon some smart bacteria and a 3D printer could solve the twin challenges of transporting materials on a journey to Mars and dealing with all the solid waste generated by space-faring humans. The team from the University of Calgary have devised a process (PDF) called ‘Astroplastic’, which produces …

  1. Anonymous South African Coward Silver badge

    /inserts obligatory poo emoji

  2. TonyJ Silver badge

    It's a sh*tty job...

    ...but someone had to do it?

    Seriously though I can see the benefits even if I'd prefer not to consider the mindset and/or thought process of the creator(s).

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      The Matrix

      It may be a sh*tty job but also the only job left for humans after the singularity.

      When the AIs finally take over they will realize that humans are actually lousy batteries but great bioreactors, making the plastics they need to construct their physical forms.

      So we develop sh*tty technology at our own risk.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Can't they turn it into some sort of plopellent?

    1. DNTP

      Re: Plopellent

      Anything is a rocket propellant if you can fire it out the back door, the faster the better of course. Now that's not as simple as loading the poor astros' up on Taco Bell and having them point ass out the rear airlock, but fermenting waste into methane and other VOCs, introducing oxygen, and letting it go bang in a rocket chamber might be a reasonably energetic chemical mix.

      Given the practical size requirements of a spacecraft designed to support extended human life, I don't think the residents could produce enough solid waste to gain useful delta-v. And of course throwing chemically useful material out of a closed environmental system sounds like a waste of, umm... waste.

  4. JimmyPage Silver badge
    Thumb Up


    just made me think of


  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Don't forget your toothbrush.

    Or the tech guys will print you one off...

  6. LenG

    Choose wisely

    "PHB, a bioplastic, can then be used to print useful items for astronauts."

    Like cutlery

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "...which produces polyhydroxybutyrate (PHB) from solid lumps of human excreta."

    I always thought PHB stood for pointy haired boss - and the phrase makes just as much sense without that long word in there...

    1. ArrZarr Silver badge

      I can imagine a few commenters would like to make PHB granules from former and current managers - in fact the company that figures out how to do that can even run the tagline

      "You don't even need to do your business to make your business run smoothly."

    2. MiguelC Silver badge

      Just another proof

      That PHBs are full of shit!

  8. Ima Ballsy


    They're not taking a PISS are they ?

  9. Mephistro Silver badge


    This was the stuff my Rötring sets were made of, and they had some shit-like smell.

    Trivia: Butyric acid is produced in great amounts by gingko 's fruits, and that's the reason why they don't plant male and female ginkgo trees together. Except in my city, where the City Council fuckwits did just that and caused the main street to stink like an outhouse for 3 weeks each year.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Polyhydroxybutyrate

      Trivia 2: Butyric acid is believed to be the magic ingredient that makes Hershey's chocolate taste like shit. Who knows why Americans buy it, and worse still eat it. If they're really given to the taste, just keep a dog for its eggs.

      1. DNTP

        Re: American chocolate

        We're used to the important stuff being made out of shit these days so it's perversely comforting. You know, like our private health insurance companies, our chocolate, and our president.

  10. The Oncoming Scorn Silver badge


    "The final product can be used in a Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) 3D printer, thankfully with no further stinkering."


  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    So when you arrive on Mars, you could literally build yourself a sh*t-house out of sh*t :)

    1. WereWoof

      Crimp off a few logs and make a log cabin?

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    So you can literally shit a brick, that really is getting your shit together. In the process is there any shit stirring or do they get shit hot?

  13. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    Ho ho. But joking aside this addresses one of the Achilles heels of 3d printing.

    Most of these systems like their raw material pristine and carefully prepared. NASA has done some work on this with converting old plastic packaging into raw material and making hand tools and containers but long term (on Mars say) you've got to make it from local raw materials.

    Which is where this stuff comes in.

    Fermentation is awesome so I'd like to raise a glass of another of the wonders of fermentation technology. Cheers.

  14. steelpillow Silver badge

    What a load of crap

    The traditional spacefaring approach is to recycle human waste and carbon dioxide to grow fresh food, thus avoiding the need to lug a small supermarket, a nutritionist's dispensary and a nuclear-sub grade CO2 scrubber along with you.

    This idea is, figuratively as well as literally, a load of crap.

    1. John Smith 19 Gold badge

      The traditional spacefaring approach..grow fresh food,

      In an SF novel, maybe

      IRL the only biological thing being recycled in the ISS is the 'naughts urine and sweat.

      Everything else is either dried and sent back to Earth for analysis or dumped in a capsule and burned in reetnry.

      There have been experiments to grow food on the ISS. None have AFAIK used human waste.

      You are literally spouting bu***hit.

      1. steelpillow Silver badge

        Re: The traditional spacefaring approach..grow fresh food,

        " the ISS..."

        You forget, my rather short-sighted friend, that the ISS is parked in Earth's front driveway. A Mars expedition will be away from home for a period measured in years.

        Hydroponics for soil and LEDs for sunlight are already used on Earth for growing urban salads in old tunnels. Even the water has been through several sewage farm on its way to the supply pipe. And for crops that dislike hydroponics, my neighbouring farmer habitually takes processed solid human waste off the sewage farm's hands and drills it into the ground as fertiliser (I always pray the wind will blow the other way). Oh, yes, and it has all been done in the lab too. (Except the praying bit. Probably.) Just add a centrifuge (aka wheel) for gravity and your are on your foodie way to Mars.

        1. John Smith 19 Gold badge

          You forget, my rather short-sighted friend,

          I'm quite well aware of the ISS's location. I'm also aware that zero g poses special problems.

          And again, outside of an SF story what you're talking about has not been done, so no it's not "traditional" in space applications. It's (currently) just a fantasy.

          In real life 'naughts basically eat pre prepared redimeals. This is unsustainable for long term settlement or cost effective exploration.

          I agree we should be growing food in space and using it as a way to process human waste, but currently we don't. I expect much more closure for any settlement on Mars given it will be that much more expensive to supply it (and the 26 month delay between resupply).

          1. Parsimonious Tankard

            Re: You forget, my rather short-sighted friend,

            "I expect much more closure for any settlement on Mars given it will be that much more expensive to supply it (and the 26 month delay between resupply)."

            So, anything from Greggs will be fine for delivery.

  15. Milo Tsukroff

    We need to go the other way...

    Back on Earth, we need to go the other way. We need a way to turn plastic back into fertilizer, before the seas become so fouled we can walk from Newfoundland to Ireland over the bounding seas.

  16. steelpillow Silver badge

    Ain't it th' truth...

    "We have been struck by space junk and lost our air, Sir, everybody is now in space suits."

    "Quick, print off some new structural plating and secure the hull."

    "We don't have enough plastic for such a big repair, Sir."

    "Get Cookie to brew a stinking hot curry, then."

    "But we're all in space suits, Sir."

    " * "


  17. JeffyPoooh Silver badge

    "Yes, 3D Printing is shit."

    That's all that some people are capable of understanding when I attempt to engage them in a subtle discussion about the ridiculous claims made by some people that, "Someday soon all [anything] will be 3D Printed", where anything might be a complete TV, car, airplane or house emerging from the machine fully formed, running and warmed up*.

    * their vision, not mine.

    Come to think about it, a poo is probably the 2nd thing ever 3D Printed. The first was presumably an egg, or a baby.

  18. fidodogbreath Silver badge

    Fecal engineering

    The final product can be used in a Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) 3D printer

    However, the precursor process works by extrusion.

    Mine's the brown 3D-printed one. Probably best if you don't check the pockets.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    When did this infantile word "poo" come into common use by adults - especially in media quotes? Presumably all the long-standing medical or slang words are considered too offensive for polite company? That perception does not fit with some of the other Anglo-Saxon words my god daughter and her friends also use.

    To my mind it coincided with the social movement to declare anyone under-18 as a "child" - apparently denying them any responsibility for their own lives.

    1. Justin Case

      >>When did this infantile word "poo" come into common use by adults...

      I hate it too. Poo is a word for 3 year olds. But everybody's doing it now, from vets to doctors, the NHS to the BBC. No escape from a torrent of poo.

      1. Korev Silver badge

        "Poop" is an even more annoying word

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          "Poop" is an even more annoying word

          What did the Americans ever do for us?

          They gave us plastic doggy-doo!

  20. Mark 85 Silver badge

    Maybe it could be used here on Earth? Or should be? There's story this week in the news about a train load of crap headed from NYC to some landfile in the south that's been sitting on a siding. So maybe take the crap and make some tat for the folks in NYC???

  21. Camilla Smythe


    Next up 3D printers will become sentient and we will be placed in fields for them to harvest our poo.

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

    2. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

      Re: Great

      Literally field times for people with scat fetishes

  22. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge


    Have they worked out the optimal food composition that should be fed to the astronauts in order to "produce" the best "raw material" that is most suited for conversion?

    1. onefang

      Re: Feed

      Yes, fruits and nuts.

      1. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge

        Re: Feed


        Yes, fruits and nuts.

        Well, the fruits will certainly ensure a regular output

  23. Sam Therapy

    Reminds me of a song one of my old school friends used to sing:

    If you really need to crap when you're out between the stars

    The intergalactic laxative will get you from here to Mars.

    Strangely prophetic.

  24. Ken Shabby Bronze badge


    They would never make the best parts, possibly the number twos.

    1. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge

      Re: Inferior?

      They would never make the best parts, possibly the number twos.

      Still, no reason to poo-poo the idea

  25. Richard 12 Silver badge

    Does SLS work in microgravity?

    Surely laying down an even layer of powder is very hard without gravity to keep it in place.

    Not to mention cleaning the excess off the final part...

    The printer NASA have tested was an FDM, which seems far better suited. Less messy, too.

  26. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Shit posting

    Gets a whole new meaning.

    If it breaks, it would be an CatASStrophe.

    What about those times you need to rebuild something, then it would be Self ASSembly.

    (gets coat)

  27. RAMChYLD

    Why am I not surprised

    > polyhydroxybutyrate (PHB)

    Can't stop giggling.

  28. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    Well it's about time

    those devices 've been crap for so long !

  29. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    My we have a chance to make a real crock of shit

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