Denkenberger Student Awarded NASA Grant

Denkenberger Student Awarded NASA Grant

Imagine a scene from a Hollywood film where astronauts are out in space with no resupply ships, generating their own food. Now, imagine some living microbes using electricity as an energy source.

Kyle Alvarado, a UAF graduate student in mechanical engineering, will be conducting research for a project funded by National Aeronautics Space Administration. He is advised by ACEP’s David Denkenberger.

This idea may not be as far-fetched as you think. The electricity produced by solar panels in space could provide the energy that some microbes actually can use. Wastes from astronauts, including exhaled carbon dioxide, could allow the microbes to build their bodies.

These microbes could provide food for astronauts, making a closed loop. On Earth, these microbes could be used as human food or animal feed, and this would require far less land and water than conventional agriculture. If the source of electricity is renewable energy, then it would be a low-carbon resource. These microbes could be particularly valuable in an agricultural catastrophe, such as abrupt climate change or an asteroid impact.

This research project involves estimating the cost of feeding people in space and in the wake of a global catastrophe. And it will estimate how many people could be fed over time in the event of a catastrophe.

For more information on the research, please contact Dave Denkenberger at


Kyle Alvarado is a graduate student in mechanical engineering. Photo by Amanda Byrd.