Katrina Knauer


Researcher IV

Chemical Engineering

Kat Knauer is a polymer scientist dedicated to solving the plastic waste problem. She has a Ph.D. in polymer science and engineering from the University of Southern Mississippi. She worked at BASF and Novoloop. Recently, Knauer joined NREL as the chief technology officer of the Bio-Optimized Technologies to keep Thermoplastics our of Landfills and the Environment (BOTTLE) Consortium, where she is developing sustainable technologies to chemically upcycle today’s existing plastic waste streams and develop new plastics for the future that are recyclable by design.



2024 CME NASA Symposium Abstract

As humanity ventures further into space exploration, there arises an urgent need to rethink our approach to resource utilization and management beyond the confines of Earth. The concept of material circularity, rooted in principles of sustainability and circular economy, presents a promising framework for achieving long-term viability in space endeavors. This talk will delve into the emerging paradigm of understanding material circularity in the context of space exploration. Firstly, we outline the challenges posed by finite resources and the environmental impact of traditional space missions, emphasizing the necessity for sustainable alternatives. We then elucidate the concept of material circularity, which advocates for closed-loop systems wherein resources are continuously recycled and reused, minimizing waste and reducing reliance on external inputs. Next, we discuss the unique considerations and constraints of applying circular economy principles in the extraterrestrial environment, including factors such as microgravity, extreme temperatures, and limited accessibility. Some of these challenges even prevent opportunities, such as the unique microbial evolution that occurs under microgravity and radiation that may be exploited to engineer microorganisms to digest plastics to produce new materials. Finally, we highlight ongoing research efforts, technological developments, and collaborative initiatives aimed at advancing the understanding and implementation of material circularity in space exploration. By embracing the principles of circular economy and integrating them into future space missions, we can pave the way towards a more sustainable and resilient spacefaring civilization.