From Mars to Congo

From Mars to Congo

We study spirulina at SCK•CEN in the context of space research. About 25 years ago, the Microbiology laboratory launched the MELiSSA project in cooperation with the ESA space agency. The target: the development of biological solutions to recycle waste (waste water, CO2 and organic matter) into drinking water, oxygen and food during long-term space missions, for example to Mars.

Research shows that spirulina is ideal for supporting life in a closed environment, such as a spacecraft, because:

  • it retains CO2
  • it produces oxygen
  • it is extremely resistant to (cosmic) radiation
  • it is suitable as a nutritious supplement in the daily diet of astronauts

Spirulina has therefore come a long way - from a lake in Africa to far into space. So it’s high time to return to its roots with our Inspiration project!

Test basin @ SCK•CEN


In order to study the cultivation of spirulina on a large scale and in similar conditions as in Congo, we have installed a test basin at SCK•CEN.

The basin is filled with 1,000 litres of potable tap water, to which we added ingredients such as minerals and nutrients. To stimulate the cultivation, the water with the spirulina has to be stirred at least three times a day.

For the design of the test basin, we counted on a production capacity of 40 grams of dry spirulina per day, the daily dose for four children (= 10 grams/day/m²).



SCK•CEN is turning green

A large network of SCK•CEN employees has meanwhile voluntarily joined the green bandwagon. Every day, the water in our test basin is stirred more or less every hour, we are organizing internal events, and are building a community of spirulina experts, both inside and outside of SCK•CEN, who can help us with the project.