The Lunar Organic Waste Reformer (LOWR) is a novel technology to convert organic wastes from human space exploration outposts into useful propellant constituents. The LOWR meets NASA’s Trash to Supply Gas (TtSG) objective under the Advanced Exploration Systems Logistics Reduction and Repurposing project by integrating steam reformation, methanation, and electrolysis to convert organic waste into methane and oxygen products. At reformer temperatures above 700 °C, oxygenated steam reacts with organic matter to produce a gas mixture largely composed of hydrogen, carbon monoxide, and carbon dioxide. After condensing and removing excess water, the reformer exhaust gases are fed to a catalytic Sabatier reactor where they are combined with supplemental hydrogen at 350 to 500 °C to produce methane and water. The methane product can be liquefied for storage.

Electrolysis of water obtained from the reformer and Sabatier reactors provides the supplemental hydrogen needed for methanation, while simultaneously producing oxygen used during steam reforming. Excess oxygen is stored as a product. The LOWR system design requires minimal feed preparation and results in nearly complete conversion of feeds to valuable products with minimal consumables, resulting in rapid payback. The thermochemical production of hydrogen in the LOWR reformer leads to significantly reduced electrolysis power requirements compared to other waste treatment methods.

The primary application of the LOWR is for conversion of organic wastes from human exploration outposts into valuable propellant components. The LOWR reduces risks associated with handling and storing organic wastes while recycling waste constituents into products that would otherwise be imported from Earth.

Adaptations of the LOWR are suitable for conversion of terrestrial organic wastes into fuel for power generation or into feedstock for chemical manufacture. Such usage would reduce effluents otherwise discharged into the environment while reducing the need for new fuels.

This work was done by Stacy L. Carrera, Robert M. Zubrin, and Mark Berggren of Pioneer Astronautics for Glenn Research Center.

Inquiries concerning rights for the commercial use of this invention should be addressed to NASA Glenn Research Center, Innovative Partnerships Office, Attn: Steven Fedor, Mail Stop 4–8, 21000 Brookpark Road, Cleveland, Ohio 44135. Refer to LEW-19093-1.

NASA Tech Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the June, 2014 issue of NASA Tech Briefs Magazine.

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