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The Space Applications are Obvious

New Nanomaterial Takes the Stink Out of Submarine Air

Unlike amine, which is a liquid, the new material looks like sand. In fact, it is sand, except it is covered with tiny pores, each filled with molecules that selectively pull CO2 out of the airstream. Together, sand grain and molecule are called Self Assembled Monolayers on Mesoporous Supports, or SAMMS. The pores create nooks and crannies that let even a small amount of the material soak up an incredible amount of CO2—a teaspoon of the material has slightly less surface area than a football field. And it’s reversible. “With a slight amount of heat, you can also open that molecule back up and release the CO2, making it possible to use the same material over and over again,” said Ken Rappe, an engineer at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory who worked on SAMMS.

Orion (last I knew) uses pressure-swing adsorption beds, which are reversible by exposing the CO2-absorber material to vacuum. Since this vents the CO2 (and some water vapor, IIRC) to space, it’s not recoverable for reuse on long missions (e.g.: Mars). If this SAMMS material uses low heat instead to release the CO2, the latter could be captured and stored, and periodically reprocessed to recover the oxygen…by technology whose development, as it happens, NASA is currently sponsoring.

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