Competitor in NASA’s CO2 Conversion Challenge Air Co is making hand sanitiser with a technology that converts COinto ethanol in a bid to support coronavirus prevention efforts.

The New York-based company is using the same unique technology to convert CO2 into simple sugar molecules known as D-sugars for the NASA competition.

“It is great to hear about a team participating in a NASA challenge using their technology to help their local area during this crisis,” said Walk Engelud, Deputy Associate Administrator for Programmes within NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate.

“This is one example of how NASA challenges spur innovation to help life on Earth and beyond. We catalyse a culture of change makers and problem solvers, many of whom go on to apply their technology and creativity to make a difference in their own communities and around the world.”

Air Co was one of five winners in the first phase of the COConversion Challenge, in which the teams developed a concept to turn COinto glucose using a non-biological process.

The team won $50,000 and is currently participating in Phase 2, the demonstration phase where they will build and demonstrate a system to help enable long-duration space exploration.

“A key feature of Air Co’s process that made them successful in Phase 1 of the competition is that the initial production of alcohols from COcreates a valuable feedstock for making more complex compounds like sugars,” said John Hogan, a life support systems scientist at NASA’s Ames Research. Centre in California’s Silicon Valley.

“This also allows the alcohols to be used as-is for immediately practical uses such as hand sanitiser.”

Air Co’s system combinesCOwith water, which first divides the water molecule into hydrogen and oxygen, then combines the hydrogen with CO2 to produce the carbon-negative alcohol used in the hand sanitiser.