NASA SBIR 2008 Solicitation


PROPOSAL NUMBER: 08-1 X3.02-9651
SUBTOPIC TITLE: Oxygen Production from Lunar Regolith
PROPOSAL TITLE: 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 Rd.
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
(616) 405-5327

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

TECHNICAL ABSTRACT (Limit 2000 characters, approximately 200 words)
Molten oxide electrolysis is a demonstrated laboratory-scale process for producing oxygen from the JSC-1a lunar simulant; however, critical subsystems necessary for a larger-scale, lunar-ready reactor must be further developed to increase technology readiness. An enabling technology of the MOE system that must be scaled is the iridium inert anode. Iridium, a proven inert anode in the process, is expensive, scarce, extremely dense, and difficult to fabricate. Electrolytic Research Corporation will develop a larger-scale anode optimized for cost, weight, material availability, and manufacturability.
ERC proposes an optimized iridium-based alloy or composite anode using electrochemical and thermophysical materials selection criteria validated with experiments (electrolysis testing) and modeling. The iridium alloy and composite screening will generate results necessary for Phase 2, where a surface engineered, multi-layer anode will be designed that includes either a refractory-metal or carbon substrate, a conductive diffusion-barrier inner layer, and an iridium outer layer. Completion of the work will greatly enhance the technology readiness level of the NASA molten oxide electrolysis in-situ resource utilization program.

POTENTIAL NASA COMMERCIAL APPLICATIONS (Limit 1500 characters, approximately 150 words)
NASA has identified In-Situ Resource Utilization (ISRU) as a key technology for permanent establishment of a lunar base. An important product is oxygen, and Molten Oxide Electrolysis has been identified as a potential technology for this application.
While MOE has been demonstrated at a laboratory-scale to produce oxygen, critical systems must be developed to meet the goals of producing in excess of 1M tons of oxygen per year in the lunar environment. The proposed work, Large-Scale Inert Anode Development for MOE, would significantly advance the technology readiness level of the MOE process for ISRU oxygen generation.
NASA is currently increasing the MOE process size to produce 5 10 kg of oxygen, and an optimized anode would allow NASA to continue scaling operations with greater confidence, while also providing the future foundation of moving to much larger reactor sizes that could meet the goal of producing 1M tons per year.

POTENTIAL NON-NASA COMMERCIAL APPLICATIONS (Limit 1500 characters, approximately 150 words)
While Molten Oxide Electrolysis can produce oxygen from lunar regolith, the process has the potential to make a much larger impact on the global metals industry. Capable of reducing numerous metals from their oxide states, the process is already under development as a lower-energy, more environmentally friendly method for producing titanium. This research is being conducted with carbon anodes, which are consumed in the process. The use of carbon limits the number of metal reduction candidates, and does not earn the process the attribute of being CO2-free.
Development of a cost-effective, large-scale inert anode would be significant in the MOE commercialization process. In the global titanium reduction market, a more than $1B industry, an inert anode could be retrofitted into the MOE reactor to render the process carbon-free. This is particularly significant in the case of chromium, which cannot be made without carbon contamination by the existing technology, i.e., carbothermic reduction of Cr2O3 in an electric arc furnace. Ultralow levels of carbon confer enhanced metallurgical properties on chromium and, hence, stainless steel. In the extreme, we envision green electrochemical extraction of steel. The development of an inert anode for use in molten oxides is the pivotal enabling technology.

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 11-24-08 11:56