NASA SBIR 2004 Solicitation


PROPOSAL NUMBER: 04 X1.03-9547
SUBTOPIC TITLE: In-Situ Resource Processing and Refining
PROPOSAL TITLE: Carbon Monoxide Silicate Reduction System

SMALL BUSINESS CONCERN (Name, E-mail, Mail Address, City/State/Zip, Phone)
Pioneer Astronautics
11111 W. 8th Ave., Unit A
Lakewood, CO 80215-5516

PRINCIPAL INVESTIGATOR/PROJECT MANAGER (Name, E-mail, Mail Address, City/State/Zip, Phone)
Mark H Berggren
Pioneer Astronautics, 11111 W. 8th Ave. unit A
Lakewood, , CO 80215-5516

The Carbon Monoxide Silicate Reduction System (COSRS) is an innovative method that for the first time uses the strong reductant carbon monoxide to both reduce iron and to evenly deposit carbon. This enables high temperature carbothermal reduction of silicon oxide yielding five times as much oxygen recovery from planetary regolith compared to hydrogen-based reduction systems. COSRS is an in situ planetary resource utilization process that yields useful oxygen and metals by reducing the majority of metal oxides in undifferentiated lunar, asteroidal, and Martian surface materials. The COSRS initially heats the materials to temperatures where the iron-bound oxygen combines with carbon monoxide, a strong reducing agent (reductant). Simultaneously, the produced iron metal catalyzes the disproportionation of carbon monoxide to carbon and carbon dioxide. The temperature is then raised for carbothermal reduction of the silicates, producing carbon monoxide, which is recycled back to the first stage process, and silicon metal. The carbon dioxide created in the iron reduction/disproportionation step is processed with hydrogen in a Reverse Water Gas Shift (RWGS) unit to make carbon monoxide and water. After electrolysis, the oxygen is stored while the CO is recycled to the reactor.

The COSRS is a potentially enabling technology for human Lunar exploration because it can produce the majority of the oxygen available in undifferentiated Lunar soil, or roughly five times the yield of hydrogen reduction technologies. This increased productivity eliminates the need to beneficiate the soil, thereby enabling automated lunar oxygen facilities that could produce return propellant prior to the arrival of the crew. This will greatly decrease the launch costs required to support the lunar base, and also enable long range exploration using ballistic hoppers employing Lunar oxygen. The COSRS will also work on asteroids, Mars, and Jupiter's moons.

The integrated COSRS/RWGS/Carbothermal reduction system has an application to the production of pure silicon metal for terrestrial manufacturing of photovoltaics and electronics components. The integrated COSRS/RWGS/Carbothermal reduction system also has future applications to the production of large quantities of oxygen, iron metal, and silicon metal from random lunar and Martian regolith for lunar and Martian bases, and could be used in the same way to allow useful metal production from very low grade ores on Earth. Furthermore, the closed COSRS/RWGS system would enable the terrestrial production of iron and other metals without generating carbon dioxide greenhouse gas.