Space Stations

The ISS National Lab and Estée Lauder Announce Two Winning Concepts of the Sustainability Challenge: Beyond Plastics

By Keith Cowing
Press Release
July 29, 2022
Filed under , , , ,
The ISS National Lab and Estée Lauder Announce Two Winning Concepts of the Sustainability Challenge: Beyond Plastics

On July 28, 2022, the International Space Station (ISS) National Laboratory announced two winning concepts from its Sustainability Challenge: Beyond Plastics. The winning concepts will receive funding for their research proposals from the exclusive challenge partner, global prestige beauty brand Estée Lauder, and will have the opportunity to launch their research to the orbiting laboratory.

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 at the 11th annual ISS Research and Development Conference in Washington, D.C.

The ISS National Laboratory Sustainability Challenge: Beyond Plastics aims to utilize the unique space-based 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. Estée Lauder’s partnership and support of this research challenge reflects its commitment to long-term sustainability goals and further enables scientific and technological discoveries to find new solutions for plastics alternatives with improved environmental responsibility.

Below highlights the two selected projects.

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. 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 BOTTLE Consortium

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. This is especially important because the process may be used in mixed plastic recycling consisting of many different types of plastics. 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.

“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, The Estée Lauder Companies & Global Brand President, 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.”

“The ISS National Lab is deeply impressed by the winning concepts selected for our Sustainability Challenge: Beyond Plastics,” said Christine Kretz, vice president 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 spaceflight.”

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

To learn more about the ISS National Lab and the science that it sponsors, please visit

Media Contact:
Patrick O’Neill

About the International Space Station (ISS) National Laboratory: The International Space Station (ISS) is a one-of-a-kind laboratory that enables research and technology development not possible on Earth. As a public service enterprise, the ISS National Lab allows researchers to leverage this multiuser facility to improve life on Earth, mature space-based business models, advance science literacy in the future workforce, and expand a sustainable and scalable market in low Earth orbit. Through this orbiting national laboratory, research resources on the ISS are available to support non-NASA science, technology and education initiatives from U.S. government agencies, academic institutions, and the private sector. The Center for the Advancement of Science in Space, Inc. (CASIS) manages the ISS National Lab, under Cooperative Agreement with NASA, facilitating access to its permanent microgravity research environment, a powerful vantage point in low Earth orbit, and the extreme and varied conditions of space. To learn more about the ISS National Lab, visit

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