Advanced life support for space exploration: Air revitalization using amine coated single wall carbon nanotubes


The challenges posed by long duration human space flight have made regenerable air revitalization a critical technology. Current systems using disposable lithium hydroxide do not address the difficulties presented by long duration missions. Solid amine systems offer the capability to regeneratively adsorb CO2 using an amine—impregnated porous substrate. Desorption of CO2 is then achieved by exposing the system to vacuum or by increasing temperature. However, thermal inefficiencies and system size constraints prevent adoption of regenerable systems on current and future space vehicles. A key challenge is the thermal management of the adsorbing bed. The adsorbing surface increases in temperature which reduces adsorbing efficiency. The removal of CO2 reduces temperature, which in turn produces a loss in regeneration efficiency. These thermal inefficiencies necessitate prohibitively large volumes of traditional solid-amine materials, which do not have optimized surface areas and pore distributions. Single-wall carbon nanotubes (SWCNTs) may provide a means to increase surface area of the amine support and thermal efficiency. Recent work by Cinke et. al. provided a method of functionalizing SWCNTs and increasing the surface area to the order of 1500 m2/g [1]. We will report on the production of free standing, high surface area carbon nanotube structures currently being impregnated with amines. This novel SWCNT/amine approach will be compared with the current state of the art polymer structure-based system and characterized using SEM, TEM, surface area analysis through Brunauer-Emmett-Teller (BET), and also thermogravimetric equilibrium absorption. Results of SWCNT material improvements from processing modifications will also be presented.

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The authors wish to thank Dr. Tom Filburn for his invaluable contribution of amine impregnation and experience. We wish to acknowledge the ongoing collaboration with Rice University with particular gratitude to Dr. Bob Hauge for providing SWCNT pearls and fibers for this research. The authors recognize the valuable support, advice and expertise of Dr. John Graf (NASA JSC) in spacecraft CO2 sequestration. The authors thank the leadership of NASA Johnson Space Center for its ongoing support of advanced nanomaterials applications research and development.

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Correspondence to Padraig Moloney.

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Moloney, P., Huffman, C., Gorelik, O. et al. Advanced life support for space exploration: Air revitalization using amine coated single wall carbon nanotubes. MRS Online Proceedings Library 851, 23–28 (2004).

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