ISS National Lab, Estée Lauder Choose 2 Potential Plastic Pollution Solutions to Launch into Space

The Beyond Plastics Challenge aims to address the plastics dilemma on Earth through the design and production of solutions aided by access to space. The two winning concepts will be able to conduct research in the International Space Station’s unique, weightless environment.

Today, the International Space Station (ISS) National
announced two winning concepts from
its Sustainability Challenge: Beyond
The winning concepts will receive funding for their research proposals from the
exclusive challenge partner, global prestige beauty brand Estée
, and will have the opportunity to launch
their research on the orbiting laboratory — to further the partners’ ambition to
advance sustainability research that addresses the plastics dilemma.

The challenge, put forth by the Center for the Advancement of Science in
Space, Inc.
— manager of the ISS National Lab — in partnership with Estée
Lauder, sought project concepts to advance sustainability research on the space
station that address the worldwide plastic waste dilemma. The selected projects
were announced today at the 11th annual ISS Research and Development
in Washington, DC.

Human space exploration missions quickly revealed that microgravity, or
weightlessness, had profound and unique effects on physical and biological
phenomena. Understanding these effects is critical for human exploration and
pioneering space — but the study of these effects also advances knowledge on
Earth. The ISS National Lab is a permanently crewed research facility,
observatory and engineering test bed that can provide powerful insights into
fundamental and applied scientific investigations; as such, the orbiting lab
represents a one-of-a-kind platform capable of enabling scientific and
technological discoveries that can mitigate the widespread effects of plastic

In 2019, the ISS National Lab held a sustainability

focused on how the orbiting laboratory could address plastic pollution in
Earth’s environment. The Beyond Plastics Challenge builds on the workshop’s
recommendations to address the plastics dilemma through the design and
production of sustainable polymers aided by access to space.

“The ISS National Lab is deeply impressed by the winning concepts selected for
our Sustainability Challenge: Beyond Plastics,” said Christine Kretz, VP of
programs and partnerships for the ISS National Lab. “We are proud to make this
special announcement with our partners at Estée Lauder — without their generous
support, this challenge would not be possible. Opening access and opportunity
through unique partnerships and solicitations like this enables greater
potential for scientific gains that benefit humanity, and we look forward to
working with the selected project teams as they prepare their research for

The Beyond Plastics Challenge aims to utilize the orbiting lab’s unique,
weightless environment to develop, test or mature products and processes that 1)
reduce plastic waste introduction into the environment, 2) seek alternative
feedstocks and pathways for polymer production beyond petrochemicals, or 3)
reduce virgin plastic manufacturing. The two selected projects are:

Microgravity synthesis of aerogel copolymers

Dr. Stephen Meckler, Palo Alto Research Center, Inc. (PARC)

This project seeks to improve the performance of lightweight, porous aerogels to
capture and remove carbon dioxide from the air. Producing the aerogel materials
in the microgravity environment will allow the research team to study how the network of pores that
make up the aerogel structure form in the absence of effects from gravity-driven
convection and sedimentation. This information and the resulting pore structure
may lead to better uniformity in the aerogels and higher carbon dioxide capture
rates. Captured carbon dioxide could be used to replace oil as the polymer
feedstock to produce plastics (an innovation recently proven by
PARC, which is part of the Xerox family, will work with ISS National Lab
Implementation Partner Aerospace North America on this project.

No carbon left behind: Biological recycling of plastic waste

Dr. Katrina Knauer, National
Renewable Energy Laboratory and the

This project aims to determine whether space radiation and microgravity
influence the behavior of specific bacteria strains that break down plastics and
produce polymer building blocks — which will be critical for use in
mixed-plastic recycling. Results from this project may reveal new recycling
mechanisms that could allow previously difficult-to-recycle plastics to be
upcycled — or made into materials of even higher value than the original
plastics. ISS National Lab Commercial Service Provider Rhodium Scientific
will provide engineering support for this project.

The partnership between the ISS National Laboratory and Estée Lauder is a first
for the beauty industry, reinforcing Estée Lauder’s commitment to sustainability
as the company works towards its goal to have 75-100 percent of its packaging be
recyclable, refillable, reusable, recycled or

by 2025. Since the call for proposals in October 2021, the beauty giant has
achieved 70 percent of that goal.

“As an evolution of our commitment to long-term sustainability and our
partnership with the ISS National Lab, we’re honored to recognize and help
facilitate the impactful research of Dr. Meckler and Dr. Knauer,” said
Stéphane de La Faverie, Group President for The Estée Lauder
& Global Brand
President at Estée Lauder. “Building on the visionary work of our namesake
founder, Estée Lauder — who redefined technology and innovation in beauty — we
are championing the next generation of leaders in science both to help drive the
achievement of our packaging sustainability goals and in the hope of having
broad impacts beyond our industry.”

In the future, the ISS National Lab says it intends to partner with other
companies on similar Sustainability Challenges that fund opportunities to
advance science that brings value to our planet.

1 Comment

  1. Itís difficult to find well-informed people in this particular subject, but you sound like you know what youíre talking about! Thanks

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