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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

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

Catalytic Decomposition of Gaseous Byproducts from Primary Solid Waste Treatment Technologies

Several solid waste management (SWM) systems currently under development for spacecraft deployment result in the production of a variety of toxic gaseous contaminants. Examples include the Plastic Melt Waste Compactor (PMWC) at NASA - Ames Research Center1, the Oxidation/Pyrolysis system at Advanced Fuel Research2, and the Microwave Powered Solid Waste Stabilization and Water Recovery (MWSWS&WR) System at UMPQUA Research Company (URC). The current International Space Station (ISS) airborne contaminant removal system, the Trace Contaminant Control Subassembly (TCCS), is designed to efficiently process nominal airborne contaminants in spacecraft cabin air. However, the TCCS has no capability to periodically process the highly concentrated toxic vapors of variable composition, which are generated during solid waste processing, without significant modifications.
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

Development of Enabling Technologies for Magnetically Assisted Gasification of Solid Wastes

Magnetically Assisted Gasification (MAG) is a relatively new concept for the destruction of solid wastes aboard spacecraft, lunar and planetary habitations. Three sequential steps are used to convert the organic constituents of waste materials into useful gases: filtration, gasification, and ash removal. In the filtration step, an aqueous suspension of comminuted waste is separated and concentrated using a magnetically consolidated depth filter composed of granular ferromagnetic media. Once the filter is fully loaded, the entrapped solids are thermochemically gasified via a variety of mechanisms including pyrolysis, isomerization, and oxidation reactions. Finally, the inorganic ash residue is removed from the magnetic media by fluidization and trapped downstream by filtration. Importantly, for each of these steps, the degree of consolidation or fluidization of the granular ferromagnetic media is controlled using magnetic forces.
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

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

Optimization of Waste Derived Elemental Use to Meet Demands of Crop Production of Selected BIO-Plex Crops

In this paper we have developed a unique approach to providing the elements required for crop production in a steady-state condition, which is essential for Space habitats. The approach takes into consideration human elemental requirements and crop requirements for healthy growth and develops a method for the calculation of the rates of nutrient uptake for the different elements for different crops. The uptake rates can be used to calculate the rate of nutrient supply required in the hydroponic solution. This approach ensures that crops produced will not have excessive levels of elements that may be harmful to humans. It also provides an opportunity to optimize the processes of crop production and waste processing through highly controlled feed rates.
Technical Paper

On Demand Electrochemical Production of Reagents to Minimize Resupply of Expendables

The electrosynthesis of expendable reagents including acids, bases, and oxidants from simple salts or salt mixtures has been demonstrated using a variety of electrochemical cells. A five chambered electrodialytic water splitting (EDWS) cell with bipolar membranes was utilized to efficiently convert sodium sulfate, sodium chloride, potassium nitrate, and potassium chloride to conjugate acids and bases. With the same cell, selective segregation of cations and anions from mixed salt solutions occurred, resulting in relatively pure acids and bases. These results suggest that pure acids and bases can be produced from composite spacecraft brines. Chemical oxidants such as sodium and ammonium persulfate were also synthesized with high current efficiencies by the electrooxidation of salts and acids in a two chambered electrochemical cell.
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.