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In a near future society, man will be mining asteroids far from Earth. One technology on board their ships is a hydrocarbon assembler. It takes in energy, water and carbonaceous asteroid matter and assembles hydrocarbon chains of various lengths and release the oxygen from the water for breathing or other uses.

This is dumb machine that cranks out multiple moles of hydrocarbon molecules of particular length, it doesn't do smart replicator-like molecular assembly. This assembler maybe be able to do simple assembly tasks like lining the chains up or laying them in an overlapping patterns.

I know fuel is made from hydrocarbon chains, but what other materials can be made from them?

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  • $\begingroup$ plastics, solvents, some drugs. Most of the things we use oil for. $\endgroup$ – Donald Hobson Aug 20 '16 at 10:55
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Adding a small degree of molecular assembly to your device would make it a literal life saver for deep space crews. At about the same complexity as rocket fuel, your device could be used to synthesize a nutritious gruel containing enough calories and vitamins to keep a person healthy. Some medicines could also be synthesized as well as mild alcohol for the crew's off hours.

Although not strictly hydrocarbons, two additional precious substances should be easy for a machine of this design and both would be very helpful. Creating fresh water and free oxygen would be very high on my wish list, if I were designing such a machine.

If your machine could assemble the items listed above, the range of your mining vessel could be increased dramatically. Filling the needs of both your ship and crew, from elements easily acquired from asteroids, would open up the entire solar system for human exploration and use.

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