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I'm designing a video game in which players command a small crew of aliens (10-20 of them) who are building an outpost on a planet. They are a bit larger than humans (around 2 meters tall) with about the same diet. They live underground in a structure sort of like an ant colony and have better technology than modern humans (including nuclear fusion and algae fuel).

What could I do/what technologies could I use to minimize the space it takes to grow enough food for this crew? I'd like to use no more than a few cubic meters per person. Is this possible?

A little more about this world:

  • Players can buy shipments of food, but not very often because they are expensive.
  • There are some food sources on the planet, like fruit trees. However, they must be harvested and don't produce food often.
  • There can be fictional fauna/flora as long as they are realistic.
  • I don't want the crew members drinking smoothies at every meal like in Wall-E. Food should be interesting.
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Using algae as the food source could be quite compact. The waste products of the crew, including food scraps, feces and waste water (grey and black) is fed into a Supercritical Water Oxidizer (SCWO) where it is broken down into the constituent molecules. The cooled water slurry is fed into clear tubes filled with algae and exposed to the sun or other light source, where the algae multiply and produce oxygen and protein, fats and carbohydrates for consumption. For a human the tube could be as short as about 2 m in length (assuming ideal conditions for growth), but for our purposes a "forest" of tubes would provide a level of redundancy. A SCWO would be a sturdy device, but with advanced technology it could conceivably be the size of a modern front loading washing machine. The plumbing would be the more difficult part, but a series of manifolds leading out of the SCWO to the growing tubes could be relatively compact. The biggest plumbing parts would be the areas where water gets pressurized and depressurized, quite possibly incorporated into a water to water heat exchanger to reduce the energy consumption of the SCWO.

So the "heart" of the system might be in a space the size of a modern utility room in a suburban home (where the washing machine, furnace and hot water tank are out of sight; in space they are the SCWO, the heat exchanger and the main manifold), with the growing tubes arranged in a sunroom or scattered across any convenient space, depending on how the aliens like to arrange things. Assuming that each alien has 2 growing tubes 2 m long as a minimum (more tubes can be added, but this gives the minimum requirements), then your 20 creature crew needs 40 tubes, which could fit into a relatively small room (maybe 2m X 2m with grow lights on all the walls), giving us perhaps a "stacked" structure with a 2x2x2 cube for the machinery in the "basement" and another 2x2x2 room for the growing tubes.

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  • $\begingroup$ This is really interesting. My only concern is that I don't want crew members stuck eating some kind of food paste. How would I use the products from the algae to produce interesting food? $\endgroup$ – FlyingPiMonster Jun 21 '15 at 17:09
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    $\begingroup$ @kittycat3141 "My only concern is that I don't want crew members stuck eating some kind of food paste." Just as a side note, an awful lot of people have a diet that is effectively 'food paste' today. Mashed potato/chips, reconstituted chicken nuggets, cheap burger patties etc. Look at the low cost foods at your local supermarket/fast food outlet. $\endgroup$ – NPSF3000 Jun 21 '15 at 22:18
  • $\begingroup$ I'm just not sure how to process the algae products into something that could be eaten, because it sounds like just a mixture of carbohydrates, lipids, and proteins. $\endgroup$ – FlyingPiMonster Jun 21 '15 at 22:51
  • $\begingroup$ You could probably scoop it and eat it directly in an emergency, but there are a lot of industrial processes used in the modern food industry to extract elements from various raw food materials and turn it into something "else" with different textures, flavours and so on. This part will be much bigger than the 2X2X2 room where the basic processing is done. Since Algae has much of the raw materials (proteins, fats, oil, carbohydrates) it seems to be an ideal starting point. $\endgroup$ – Thucydides Jun 21 '15 at 23:07
  • $\begingroup$ Maybe they don't care about food being different textures and colors. Maybe they are decendant from an animal that grazes on algae so they can't chew or process anything else. interesting would entail different flavor variations, through different strains or "spices" added in. $\endgroup$ – JDługosz Jun 22 '15 at 7:55

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