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Journal Article

Waste Management Technology and the Drivers for Space Missions

Since the mid 1980s, NASA has developed advanced waste management technologies that collect and process waste. These technologies include incineration, hydrothermal oxidation, pyrolysis, electrochemical oxidation, activated carbon production, brine dewatering, slurry bioreactor oxidation, composting, NOx control, compaction, and waste collection. Some of these technologies recover resources such as water, oxygen, nitrogen, carbon dioxide, carbon, fuels, and nutrients. Other technologies such as the Waste Collection System (WCS - the commode) collect waste for storage or processing. The need for waste processing varies greatly depending upon the mission scenario. This paper reviews the waste management technology development activities conducted by NASA since the mid 1980s and explores the drivers that determine the application of these technologies to future missions.
Technical Paper

Development and Testing of a Breadboard Compactor for Advanced Waste Management Designs

Waste management is a vital function of spacecraft life support systems as it is necessary to meet crew health and safety and quality of life requirements. Depending on the specific mission requirements, waste management operations can include waste collection, segregation, containment, processing, storage and disposal. For the Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV), addressing volume and mass constraints is paramount. Reducing the volume of trash prior to storage is a viable means to recover habitable volume, and is therefore a particularly desirable waste management function to implement in the CEV, and potentially in other spacecraft as well. Research is currently being performed at NASA Ames Research Center to develop waste compaction systems that can provide both volume and mass savings for the CEV and other missions.
Technical Paper

Simulated Human Feces for Testing Human Waste Processing Technologies in Space Systems

Handling and processing human feces in space habitats is a major concern and needs to be addressed for the Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV) as well as for future exploration activities. In order to ensure crew health and safety, feces should either be isolated in a dried form to prevent microbial activity, or be processed to yield a non-biohazardous product using a reliable technology. During laboratory testing of new feces processing technologies, use of “real” feces can impede progress due to practical issues such as safety and handling thereby limiting experimental investigations. The availability of a non-hazardous simulant or analogue of feces can overcome this limitation. Use of a simulant can speed up research and ensure a safe laboratory environment. At Ames Research Center, we have undertaken the task of developing human fecal simulants. In field investigations, human feces show wide variations in their chemical/physical composition.
Technical Paper

Influence of Planetary Protection Guidelines on Waste Management Operations

Newly outlined missions in the Vision for U.S. Space Exploration include extended human habitation on Mars. During these missions, large amounts of waste materials will be generated in solid, liquid and gaseous form. Returning these wastes to Earth will be extremely costly, and increase the opportunity for back contamination. Therefore, it is advantageous to investigate the potential for wastes to remain on Mars after mission completion. Untreated, these wastes are a reservoir of live/dead organisms and molecules considered “biomarkers” (i.e., indicators of life). If released to the planetary surface, these materials can potentially interfere with exobiology studies, disrupt any existent martian ecology and pose human safety concerns. Waste Management (WM) systems must therefore be specifically designed to control release of problematic materials both during the active phase of the mission, and for any specified post-mission duration.
Technical Paper

Reactive Carbon from Life Support Wastes for Incinerator Flue Gas Cleanup - System Testing

NASA Ames Research Center and Lawrence Berkeley National lab have completed a three-year joint NRA research project on the use of waste biomass to make a gaseous contaminant removal system. The objective of the research was to produce activated carbon from life support wastes and to use the activated carbon to adsorb and remove incineration flue gas contaminants such as NOx. Inedible biomass waste from food production was the primary waste considered for conversion to activated carbon. Previous research at NASA Ames has demonstrated the adsorption of both NOx and SO2 on activated carbon made from biomass and the subsequent conversion of adsorbed NOx to nitrogen and SO2 to sulfur. This paper presents the results testing the whole process system consisting of making, using, and regenerating activated carbon with relevant feed from an actual incinerator. Factors regarding carbon preparation, adsorption and regeneration are addressed.
Technical Paper

Experimental Results Obtained with a Pilot Scale System to Remove Pollutants from an Incinerator Effluent

Incineration is a promising method for converting biomass and human waste into CO2 and H2O during extended planetary exploration. Unfortunately, it produces NOX and other pollutants. TDA Research has developed a safe and effective process to remove NOX from waste incinerator product gas streams. In our process, NO is catalytically oxidized to NO2, which is then removed with a wet scrubber. In a SBIR Phase II project, TDA designed and constructed a pilot scale system, which will be used with the incinerator at NASA Ames Research Center. In this paper, we present test results obtained with our system, which clearly demonstrate the effectiveness of this approach to NOX control.
Technical Paper

Requirements Development Issues for Advanced Life Support Systems: Solid Waste Management

Long duration missions pose substantial new challenges for solid waste management in Advanced Life Support (ALS) systems. These possibly include storing large volumes of waste material in a safe manner, rendering wastes stable or sterilized for extended periods of time, and/or processing wastes for recovery of vital resources. This is further complicated because future missions remain ill-defined with respect to waste stream quantity, composition and generation schedule. Without definitive knowledge of this information, development of mission requirements is hampered. Additionally, even if waste streams were well characterized, other operational and processing needs require clarification (e.g. resource recovery requirements and planetary protection constraints). Therefore, the development of solid waste management (SWM) subsystem requirements for long duration space missions is an inherently uncertain, complex and iterative process.
Technical Paper

Reactive Carbon from Life Support Wastes for Incinerator Flue Gas Cleanup

This paper presents the results from a joint research initiative between NASA Ames Research Center and Lawrence Berkeley National lab. The objective of the research is to produce activated carbon from life support wastes and to use the activated carbon to adsorb and chemically reduce the NOx and SO2 contained in incinerator flue gas. Inedible biomass waste from food production is the primary waste considered for conversion to activated carbon. Results to date show adsorption of both NOx and SO2 in activated carbon made from biomass. Conversion of adsorbed NOx to nitrogen has also been observed.
Technical Paper

Incineration of Inedible Biomass in a Regenerative Life Support System - Developmental Efforts at NASA Ames Research Center

Of the many competing technologies for resource recovery from solid wastes for long duration manned missions such as a lunar or Mars base, incineration technology is one of the most promising and certainly the most well developed in a terrestrial sense. An incinerator was used to recover and recycle part of the waste produced during the Early Human Testing Initiative Phase 3 (EHTI 3) at Johnson Space Center. The fluidized bed incinerator developed for the EHTI testing was a joint initiative between Ames Research Center, University of Utah and Johnson Space Center. Though in no way an optimized system at that time, the fluidized bed combustor fulfilled the basic requirements of a resource recovery system. Valuable data was generated and problem areas, technology development issues and future research directions were identified during the EHTI testing.
Technical Paper

Magnetically Assisted Gasification of Solid Waste

A variety of techniques, including supercritical water oxidation, fluidized bed combustion, and microwave incineration have been applied to the destruction of solid wastes produced in regenerative life support systems supporting long duration manned missions. Among potential problems which still deserve attention are the need for operation in a variety of gravitational environments, and the requirement for improved methods of presenting concentrated solids to the reactor. Significant improvements in these areas are made possible through employment of the magnetically assisted gasification process. In this paper, magnetic methods are described for manipulating the degree of consolidation or fluidization of granular ferromagnetic media, for application in a gravity independent three step solid waste destruction process.
Technical Paper

Biomass Conversion to Pumpable Slurries

The inedible portion of plant biomass in closed regenerative life support systems must be reprocessed producing recyclable by-products such as carbon dioxide, sugars, and other useful organic species. High solids biomass slurries containing up to 27 wt% were successfully prepared in a stirred batch reactor and then pumped using a single piston valveless pump. Wheat straw, potato, and tomato crop residues were acid hydrolyzed using 1.2 wt% sulfuric acid at 180°C and 1.2 MPa for 0.75-1.5 hours. Viscosity for a 25 wt% acid hydrolyzed wheat straw emulsion (Bingham-plastic) was 6.5 centipoise at 3 cm/sec and 25°C.
Technical Paper

Waste Incineration for Resource Recovery in Bioregenerative Life Support Systems

Over the last three years, the University of Utah (UofU), NASA Ames Research Center (ARC), and Reaction Engineering International (REI) have been developing an incineration system for the regeneration of components in waste materials for long-term life support systems. The system includes a fluidized bed combustor and a catalytic flue gas clean up system. An experimental version of the incinerator was built at the UofU. The incinerator was tested and modified at ARC and then operated during the Phase III human testing at NASA Johnson Space Center (JSC) during 1997. This paper presents the results of the work at the three locations: the design and testing at UofU, the testing and modification at ARC, and the integration and operation during the Phase III tests at JSC.
Technical Paper

Particle Size Effect on Supercritical Water Oxidation- Wheat Straw Particles

For Supercritical Water Oxidation (SCWO), particle size is a key factor effecting requirements for feed preparation, slurry concentration and pumping, rate of reaction, and reactor size. To address these issues, an experimental research program was undertaken to evaluate the effect of particle size on the reaction kinetics in SCWO of solid particulates (wheat straw and cellulose particles in this case). The experiments also included evaluation of the effects of temperature, pressure, and agitation. Some corrosion data were obtained. A two-step reaction mechanism was revealed. Empirically based mathematical relationships were developed that can be used for SCWO system design.
Technical Paper

Particle Size Effect on Supercritical Water Oxidation-Polystyrene Beads

Advanced space life support systems, especially systems that include growing plants to produce food, require the recovery of resources - primarily carbon dioxide and water - from various hydrocarbon wastes. Supercritical water oxidation (SCWO) of wastes is one of several possible techniques for oxidizing waste organics to recover the carbon dioxide and water. Supercritical water oxidation has the advantages of fast kinetics, complete oxidation, and the minimization of undesirable side products. However, the SCWO process requires further development before the process can be implemented in space life systems. One of the SCWO development needs is in the area of destruction of insoluble solids - such as inedible biomass or human wastes. Insoluble solids have to be introduced into a SCWO reactor as particles, and it can be expected that the particle size of the solids will affect the rate of reaction.
Technical Paper

Computer Simulation of Water Reclamation Processors

A step in the development of advanced regenerative life support systems is to produce simulation models to guide experimentation and hardware development. This paper discuses the development of detailed simulation models of water reclamation processors using the ASPEN PLUS™ simulation program. Individual models have been developed for Vapor Compression Distillation (VCD), Vapor Phase Catalytic Ammonia Removal (VPCAR) and Supercritical Water Oxidation (SCWO). This paper outlines the methodology which is used to complete this work and discusses the insights which are gained by this type of model development. A discussion of how modeling predictions are used to direct future work in modeling and experimentation is also presented. The initial set of modeled processors were VCD, VPCAR, and SCWO. Future work will cover the modeling of other processors. These models will be linked to form subsystem level models, and evaluations will be performed on various configurations.