Institute to study novel chemical processes for ISPP

page16t.gif (37559 bytes)Southwest Research Institute has initiated a study to investigate chemical processes that could be used in an ISPP plant on the surface of Mars. The objective of this internal research project is to study novel chemical processes that are not part of the systems currently being studied by NASA.

Early in the project, several catalytic materials were identified with potential application to Mars ISPP. These include nickel-impregnated zeolites and several rare-earth oxides. The thermal catalytic activity of the candidate materials was compared to that of zirconium oxide, which is the compound used in NASA's zirconia cell method for converting carbon dioxide to carbon monoxide and oxygen.

The study demonstrated that reduced nickel zeolite and thorium oxide showed a higher conversion rate than zirconium oxide in terms of thermal catalytic activity. Thorium oxide subsequently was chosen for further development into an electrocatalytic cell. Fabrication and testing of thorium oxide wafers is currently under way.

In addition to this fundamental materials development effort, the project team will also construct a modular apparatus for testing the performance of candidate ISPP chemical processes. The test apparatus will consist of a simulated Mars-atmosphere gas delivery system and the necessary instrumentation for measuring chemical conversion efficiency and overall production rate. This apparatus will also be used for long-term reliability testing of ISPP hardware.

Published in the Spring 1999 issue of Technology Today®, published by Southwest Research Institute. For more information, contact Maria Stothoff.

Fueling a Trip from Mars
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