NASA SBIR 2008 Solicitation


PROPOSAL NUMBER: 08-2 X3.02-9651
SUBTOPIC TITLE: Oxygen Production from Lunar Regolith
PROPOSAL TITLE: Advanced Self-Heated Cell Reactor using Large Scale Inert Anode for Molten Oxide Electrolysis

SMALL BUSINESS CONCERN (Firm Name, Mail Address, City/State/Zip, Phone)
Electrolytic Research Corporation, LLC
73 Winsor Road
Sudbury, MA 01776 - 2370
(978) 443-9861

PRINCIPAL INVESTIGATOR/PROJECT MANAGER (Name, E-mail, Mail Address, City/State/Zip, Phone)
James A Yurko
73 Winsor Rd.
Sudbury, MA 01776 - 2370
(978) 443-9861

Expected Technology Readiness Level (TRL) upon completion of contract: 4 to 5

TECHNICAL ABSTRACT (Limit 2000 characters, approximately 200 words)
Molten oxide electrolysis (MOE) is a demonstrated laboratory-scale process for producing oxygen from JSC-1A and other lunar simulants; however, the technological readiness of critical subsystems must be improved before a flight-ready reactor can be built. In Phase 1 experimentation, scaleable iridium and iridium-alloy anodes demonstrated a capability for generating more than 1 L of oxygen from a silicate melt. The use of external heaters in the lab-scale cell imposed severe limitations on its performance, which constrained the duration and the rate of oxygen production in these experiments.

Based on the successful Phase 1 results and the demonstrated need for a robust, long-duration, larger-scale electrolysis cell, ERC proposes a plan for the design, construction and demonstration of a reactor capable of producing oxygen at a rate of 1 kg/day or more. A self-heating cell is critical for resolving reactor containment issues, and a critical innovation will allow this to be realized at much smaller scales than those previously required with other electrolytic processes. Successful demonstration will greatly enhance the technology readiness level of molten oxide electrolysis for oxygen generation by means of in-situ resource utilization.

POTENTIAL NASA COMMERCIAL APPLICATIONS (Limit 1500 characters, approximately 150 words)
NASA has identified In-Situ Resource Utilization (ISRU) as a key paradigm behind the establishment of a permanent lunar base. An important resource is oxygen, and Molten Oxide Electrolysis has been identified as a potential technology for extracting this resource in-situ.

While MOE has produced oxygen on a laboratory scale, critical systems must be developed to meet the goals of producing in excess of 1 metric ton of oxygen per year in the lunar environment. The proposed work, Advanced Self-Heated Cell Reactor using Large-Scale Inert Anode for MOE, significantly advances the technology readiness level of the MOE process for ISRU oxygen generation.

The proposed self-heated cell reactor using larger scale anodes would resolve two major challenges in scaling operations, and provide a platform for studying the MOE process in much greater depth and for longer periods than ever before.

POTENTIAL NON-NASA COMMERCIAL APPLICATIONS (Limit 1500 characters, approximately 150 words)
In addition to producing oxygen for lunar exploration, inert-anode MOE has the potential to make an even greater impact on the global metals industry. Capable of reducing metals from their oxide states, the process is under development as a lower-energy, environmentally-sustainable method for producing titanium. Currently, research is conducted with carbon anodes, which are consumed to produce CO2. The introduction of inert anodes would make the process CO2-free.

While the rewards of commercialization are high, electrolytic metal process development has traditionally been risky because of the size-scales necessary to reach a self-heated reactor. Thus, development of a lab-scale, self-heated reactor using large inert anodes would revolutionize the commercialization of MOE processes. An advanced, inert-anode reactor would increase experimental throughput and process development in the multi-billion dollar global titanium industry.

Such a reactor would also allow the process to be adapted for the production of other metals such as iron, chromium, and nickel. In the future, we envision MOE with inert anodes as a method for the green, electrochemical extraction of steel, the world's most-used structural material. The development of the advanced self-heated reactor with a scaled-up inert anode for use in molten oxides is a pivotal enabling technology for these revolutionary goals.

NASA's technology taxonomy has been developed by the SBIR-STTR program to disseminate awareness of proposed and awarded R/R&D in the agency. It is a listing of over 100 technologies, sorted into broad categories, of interest to NASA.

In-situ Resource Utilization

Form Generated on 08-03-09 13:26