BROOKINGS – A South Dakota State University engineering team designing a system capable of extracting water from ice deposits on Mars and a microbiology student improving the digestibility of soybean meal will tell state legislators about their research during the Student Poster Session on Wednesday.
Four senior mechanical engineering students are designing, building and testing a prototype system capable of extracting water from ice deposits buried beneath simulated lunar or Martian soil for NASA’s Moon to Mars Ice & Prospecting Challenge. Matt Dentlinger, Arcadia, Iowa; Sajan Karki, Pokhara, Nepal; Dylan McMahon, Watertown; and Gabe Peters, Worthing, are working on the project under the supervision of associate mechanical engineering professor Todd Letcher.
Sophomore microbiology major Javi Adividya of Bogor, Indonesia, is using fermentation to break down substances, known as antinutritional factors, in soybean meal to make it more digestible. Soybean meal is an important source of protein for animal feed. Adividya’s research adviser is assistant professor Bishnu Karki of the Department of Biology and Microbiology.
Collecting water on Mars
Though this is the first time SDSU has entered the NASA competition, the senior design team is among 12 national finalists for the fifth-annual competition. SDSU is the only Midwest school in the semifinal round. The progress report for the next round of judging will be submitted in March.
The project calls for drilling through 2 feet of overburden – rocks, soil and concrete – to frozen ice blocks below, putting a heater in the hole to melt the ice and then pumping out as much filtered water as possible in 12 hours. “It sounds simple, but it really is complicated,” Letcher said. “How you raise and lower the heater changes the size of the hole. How fast you pump out the water changes the hole.”
What makes the SDSU proposal unique is the heater core design. The 3D-printed heater core will have swirling holes, Letcher explained. The system will pump the water out and then return the water through the heater core with the water rushing out the swirling holes, thus expanding the size of the hole and increasing the amount of water extracted.
Increasing soybean meal digestibility
“Soybean meal contains antinutritional factors that do not harm the animal, but can interfere with digestion,” Adividya said. “Ideally, we want the animals to take advantage of all the nutrition and protein present in the soybean meal – that is the goal.” The research is supported by U.S. Department of Agriculture Hatch funding through the South Dakota Agricultural Experiment Station.
Adividya is using three fungal microbes, each with a different enzymatic ability and metabolic process, to ferment the soybean meal. These microbes not only decrease antinutritional factors, but also break down fiber, complex carbohydrates, and large proteins.
He ferments the soybean meal for 120 hours and takes samples every 24 hours. After completing the fermentation trials, he will analyze the protein, phenolics, phytics and sugars to determine the processing time needed to get the best results.
“Through value-added processing, we are making a more highly digestible protein product,” Adividya concluded.