Packed Bed Reactor Experiment (PBRE) - 08.18.16
The Packed Bed Reactor Experiment (PBRE) studies the behavior of gases and liquids when they flow simultaneously through a column filled with fixed porous media. The porous media or “packing” can be made of different shapes and materials and are used widely in chemical engineering as a means to enhance the contact between two immiscible fluid phases (e.g., liquid-gas, water-oil, etc.). Packed columns can serve as reactors, scrubbers, strippers, etc. in systems where efficient interphase contact is desired, both on Earth and in space. Science Results for Everyone
Information Pending Experiment Details
OpNom: Packed Bed Reactor Experiment
Brian J. Motil, Ph.D., Glenn Research Center, Cleveland, OH, United States
Vemuri Balakotaiah, Ph.D., University of Houston, Houston, TX, United States
Julie Mitchell, NASA Johnson Space Center, Houston, TX, United States
NASA Glenn Research Center, Cleveland, OH, United States
ZIN Technologies Incorporated, Cleveland, OH, United States
Sponsoring Space Agency
National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)
NASA Research Office - Space Life and Physical Sciences (NASA Research-SLPS)
Earth Benefits, Scientific Discovery, Space Exploration
ISS Expedition Duration
September 2015 - March 2016; March 2016 - March 2017
- Currently, there are no design methodologies for two-phase flow in packed beds in microgravity. Consequently, two-phase flow equipment for space applications cannot be optimally designed, leading to excess weight; unnecessary energy consumption; and reduced operational life.
- Results provide engineers with principles to design more efficient equipment for heat/mass transfer in space. The impact of this research is scientific, technological and economic.
- Scientifically and technologically, knowledge gained from PBRE studies allows for more optimally designed equipment for chemical and/or biological reactors to be used in, for example, water recovery, planetary surface processing and oxygen production. Availability of this equipment permits planners to conceive longer duration space missions not currently possible. On the economic side, optimal designs are lighter and more efficient, thus leading to savings in launch mass, energy use and maintenance costs.
Water-recovery systems, fuel cells and other equipment on the International Space Station use packed bed reactors, but currently none are designed to handle both liquid and gas at the same time. With improved understanding of how packed bed two-phase flow works in microgravity, scientists are be able to design more efficient, lightweight thermal management and life support systems that use less energy, benefiting the Space Station and future lunar and Mars missions.
Design rules for gas-liquid flows through packed columns are well developed on Earth (i.e., for normal gravity) but lacking for reduced or zero gravity. The Packed Bed Reactor Experiment seeks to fill this knowledge gap by studying the hydrodynamics of gas-liquid flows in zero gravity through packed columns. By understanding how gravity affects gas-liquid flows through packed columns (or packed beds, as they are known in the industry) better, more predictive correlations for pressure drops and flow regime maps can be developed with the proper gravity-dependent terms included.
Operational Requirements and Protocols
Decadal Survey Recommendations
Applied Physical Science in Space AP1
Translation to Space Exploration Systems TSES6
Information Pending^ back to top
Ground Based Results Publications
Motil BJ, Balakotaiah V, Kamotani Y. Gas-Liquid Two-Phase Flows Through Packed Beds in Microgravity. American Institute of Chemical Engineers Journal. 2003 Mar; 49(3): 557-565. DOI: 10.1002/aic.690490303.
Revankar ST, Olenik DJ, Jo D, Motil BJ. Local Instrumentation for the Investigation of Multi-Phase Parameters in a Packed Bed. Proceedings of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, Part E: Journal of Process Mechanical Engineering. 2007 November 1; 221(4): 187-199. DOI: 10.1243/09544089JPME142.
Packed Bed Reactor Experiment inside the Materials Science Glovebox work volume. (NASA Image)
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Packed Bed Reactor Experiment test section. (NASA Image)
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This video frame capture shows a pulse flow in the microgravity airplane. The frames should be read from the top down, and show the pulse front (seen as the leading edge of a "lighter" region in the image) advancing from left to right. Pulse flows are desired in packed bed reactors because they enhance inter-phase contact --thus making the process more efficient. (NASA Video Capture)
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