May 22, 2015 – Reactive Innovations, LLC was awarded a multi-year contract from NASA to continue its development of a carbon dioxide collection and pressurization system for Martian exploratory missions. Mars is the ultimate destination of NASA’s human exploration program where In Situ Resource Utilization (ISRU) is a key technology required to enable such missions. The goals of using resources that are available at the site of exploration and pursuing the philosophy of “living off the land” instead of bringing it all the way from Earth are to achieve a reduction in launch and delivered mass for exploration missions, a reduction in mission risk and cost, to enable new missions not possible without ISRU, and to expand the human presence in space.
Reactive Innovations, LLC has been developing a compact and lightweight electrochemical reactor capable of collecting and pressurizing carbon dioxide from the Martian atmosphere.The Martian atmosphere is composed of about 95% carbon dioxide which can be processed to produce useful consumables such as oxygen and methane. Leading technologies for processing CO2 are solid oxide electrolysis, reverse water gas shift, and the Sabatier reaction. Typically, these processes require high purity, pressurized carbon dioxide to obtain a significant feed rate. Reactive’s approach is based on a reactive-separation process where a redox carrier selectively binds to carbon dioxide allowing it to be removed through an ionic liquid imbibed membrane separator. This process electrochemically pumps the bound CO2 across a membrane separator effectively concentrating it and pressurizing it in a separate process stream. With this approach, no regeneration step is required allowing a continuous process to occur to separate and pressurize CO2.
Carbon dioxide removal continues to be a large growing terrestrial market with applications as small as CO2 removal from scuba diving rebreathers to large sequestering systems for power plants to mitigate global warming. Of particular interest is in capturing CO2 and using it for further processing such as producing fuel or products. Thus, technologies that continuously operate or that can readily be regenerated are needed. Competitive technologies for gas separation often use adsorbent or membrane processes which require regeneration or are single-use processes. Reactive’s CO2 collection and pressurization technology selectively captures CO2 while providing an additional advantage in pressurizing the CO2 which is required in sequestration pipelines and in post-processing.