NASA is requesting technologies for efficient transmission of energy for oxygen/metal extraction. Blueshift proposes to develop a continuous feed reactor for rapidly heating lunar regolith to prescribed temperatures exceeding 2,200° C using Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) more efficiently than current state of the art and extracting oxygen through two extraction processes (carbothermal reduction, vapor phase pyrolysis). This Solar Concentrating Oxygen Reactor for Continuous Heating and Extrusion of Regolith (SCORCHER) implements Blueshift’s patent pending CSP thermal control technology for providing process specific temperatures, an innovative reactor design to bring regolith up to temperature and extract oxygen more efficiently, and a continuous slag extrusion design enabling continuous processing and byproduct utilization as a crude fabrication material for casting, construction, and additive manufacturing. Benefits of the proposed innovation include a 1.7kW reduction in power requirements compared to an equivalent microwave-heated pyrolysis system, continuous oxygen extraction capability, reduced processing times, increased oxygen yields, high temperature pyrolysis capability (>2000° C) for direct oxygen extraction without a gas reactant, extraction process agnostic design for wide adaptability, temperature ramping to mitigate temperature shock failure in components, and secondary resource utilization of extruded slag for part fabrication, long duration thermal energy storage, or for secondary smelting and refining. The Phase I effort will focus on reactor design and prototype development, optical system and reactor modeling, and characterization testing using the prototype reactor to perform carbothermal reduction and vapor phase pyrolysis on lunar soil simulant JSC-1A.
The primary application within NASA’s technology roadmap for the proposed technology is TA7.1.3 for improving efficiency and production rates of gas phase reactions. The technology also accommodates TA7.1.4 by utilizing the extruded slag as a fabrication material in casting and additive manufacturing. As an oxygen extraction system, it can be incorporated into several future unmanned NASA missions to near earth asteroids, the lunar surface, Martian moons, Mars orbit, and the Martian surface.
The SCORCHER technology will be most useful anywhere that electrical infrastructure is not established and sufficient sunlight is available. The technology is ideal for underserved communities in the US and around the world. A portable, multi-material reduction system will enable advanced material processing and precious metal recycling/recovery with minimal operating cost.