Monday, September 7, 2009

Carbothermal Processing of Lunar Regolith using Methane

R. Balasubramaniam and U. Hegde
National Center for Space Exploration Research

S. Gokoglu
NASA Glenn Research Center
Cleveland, Ohio

The processing of lunar regolith for the production of oxygen is a key component of the ISRU, plans currently being developed by NASA. Among various candidate processes, the modeling of oxygen production by hydrogen reduction, molten salt electrolysis, and carbothermal processing are presently being pursued. In the carbothermal process, a portion of the surface of the regolith in a container is heated by exposure to a heat source such as a laser beam or a concentrated solar heat flux, so that a small zone of molten regolith is established. The molten zone is surrounded by solid regolith particles that are poor conductors of heat. A continuous flow of methane is maintained over the molten regolith zone. Our model is based on a mechanism where methane pyrolyzes when it comes in contact with the surface of the hot molten regolith to form solid carbon and hydrogen gas.

Carbon is deposited on the surface of the melt, and hydrogen is released into the gas stream above the melt surface. We assume that the deposited carbon mixes in the molten regolith and reacts with metal oxides in a reduction reaction by which gaseous carbon monoxide is liberated.

Carbon monoxide bubbles through the melt and is released into the gas stream. Oxygen is produced subsequently by (catalytically) processing the carbon monoxide downstream. In this paper, we discuss the development of a chemical conversion model of the carbothermal process to predict the rate of production of carbon monoxide.

Download the presentation, HERE.

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