Browse Publications Technical Papers 2006-01-2183

Carbon Production in Space from Pyrolysis of Solid Waste 2006-01-2183

Pyrolysis processing of solid waste in space will inevitably lead to carbon formation as a primary pyrolysis product. The amount of carbon depends on the composition of the starting materials and the pyrolysis conditions (temperature, heating rate, residence time, pressure). Many paper and plastic materials produce almost no carbon residue upon pyrolysis, while most plant biomass materials or human wastes will yield up to 20-40 weight percent on a dry, as-received basis. In cases where carbon production is significant, it can be stored for later use to produce CO2 for plant growth. Alternatively it can be partly gasified by an oxidizing gas (e.g., CO2, H2O, O2) in order to produce activated carbon. Activated carbons have a unique capability of strongly absorbing a great variety of species, ranging from SO2 and NOx, trace organics, mercury, and other heavy metals. Activated carbons can also be used for gas storage and gas separations, including systems of practical interest to NASA (e.g., CO2/N2/O2), and even for the purification of liquids. No single activated carbon is suitable for all applications, but appreciable control over sorbent properties can be exercised in the process of carbon preparation. Since activated carbons can be produced from a wide range of organic materials, including waste streams, the preparation of activated carbons on board spacecraft should involve a limited amount of additional resources, help manage on-board waste, and reduce the weight of materials to be launched from earth. A second source of carbon from pyrolysis processing of solid waste is carbon that results from cracking the primary pyrolysis liquids on a catalyst bed. This paper will examine the yields and reactivity characteristics of carbons formed in the first two stages of a prototype pyrolyzer from various solid wastes.


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