Synthetic Biological Membrane
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For long duration human space flight missions, reliability is a critical factor. It impacts both safety and cost. This is particularly true for a spacecraft’s life support system. This paper describes the development of a biomimetic technology called the BioMembrane. The BioMembrane improves the reliability of separation membranes by mimicking the regenerative function of biological membranes. It uses genetically engineered organisms to regenerate a protective fatty acid layer on the surface of a lipid membrane. This fatty acid layer is engineered to provide a sacrificial protective surface on the feed side of the membrane. This surface protects the membrane from mineral scale, organic fouling, and oxidative damage. The BioMembrane is configured for use in a forward osmosis (FO) water purification system. In this configuration the engineered organisms are in the recirculating osmotic agent and the fatty acids they produce diffuse across the lipid membrane into the feed. At the surface of the lipid membrane these fatty acids provide a protective layer to the feed side of the membrane.