Germany: Advanced Technology International Space Station Uses Hydrogenation Catalyst for Life Support System

Editor: Ahlam Rais

Developed by Evonik, the new catalyst is being tested in the ‘Advanced Closed Loop System’, a life support system. The catalyst located in the Sabatier reactor helps to cut down the heavy costs of transporting water into space.

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Cycle of the Advanced Closed Loop System on ISS.
Cycle of the Advanced Closed Loop System on ISS.
(Source: Evonik)

Hanau/Germany – The International Space Station ISS will receive a new element for the life support system called the ‘Advanced Closed Loop System’ (ACLS), which was recently installed by Commander Alexander Gerst and is now being tested. A catalyst from Evonik plays an important role in the system. The ALCS was developed by Airbus for the European Space Agency (ESA) to ensure an efficient life support system on board. The system is capable of removing exhaled carbon dioxide from the air whilst generating water and oxygen to breathe. With the commissioning of the system, it will generate about 40 per cent of the fresh water required on board and thus significantly reduces the amount of water which needs to be transported from the earth to the ISS. The transport of water to the ISS is extremely expensive costing up to 68,000 dollars per litre. At the beginning of 2019, the system should be fully operational on the space station.

At the heart of the system is a Sabatier reactor, which converts carbon dioxide and hydrogen into methane and water. The oxygen needed for breathing is then obtained by electrolysis of the water produced. To make the reaction of carbon dioxide and hydrogen possible, a hydrogenation catalyst is necessary. This was jointly developed by Evonik and Airbus for the special application in the ACLS and prepared for use in the ISS in a multi-year qualification. It is a high performance catalyst that has high stress resistance and reliably delivers the required activity and selectivity over a long period of time, even when small quantities are used.