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The growth of zeolites A, X and mordenite in spaceZeolites are a class of crystalline aluminosilicate materials that form the backbone of the chemical process industry worldwide. They are used primarily as adsorbents and catalysts and support to a significant extent the positive balance of trade realized by the chemical industry in the United States (around $19 billion in 1991). The magnitude of their efforts can be appreciated when one realizes that since their introduction as 'cracking catalysts' in the early 1960's, they have saved the equivalent of 60 percent of the total oil production from Alaska's North Slope. Thus the performance of zeolite catalysts can have a profound effect on the U.S. economy. It is estimated that a 1 percent increase in yield of the gasoline fraction per barrel of oil would represent a savings of 22 million barrels of crude oil per year, representing a reduction of $400 million in the United States' balance of payments. Thus any activity that results in improvement in zeolite catalyst performance is of significant scientific and industrial interest. In addition, due to their 'stability,' uniformity, and, within limits, their 'engineerable' structures, zeolites are being tested as potential adsorbents to purify gases and liquids at the parts-per-billion levels needed in today's electronic, biomedical, and biotechnology industries and for the environment. Other exotic applications, such as host materials for quantum-confined semiconductor atomic arrays, are also being investigated. Because of the importance of this class of material, extensive efforts have been made to characterize their structures and to understand their nucleation and growth mechanisms, so as to be able to custom-make zeolites for a desired application. To date, both the nucleation mechanics and chemistry (such as what are the 'key' nutrients) are, as yet, still unknown for many, if not all, systems. The problem is compounded because there is usually a 'gel' phase present that is assumed to control the degree of supersaturation, and this gel undergoes a continuous 'polymerization' type reaction during nucleation and growth. Generally, for structure characterization and diffusion studies, which are useful in evaluating zeolites for improving yield in petroleum refining as well as for many of the proposed new applications (e.g., catalytic membranes, molecular electronics, chemical sensors) large zeolites (greater than 100 to 1000 times normal size) with minimum lattice defects are desired. Presently, the lack of understanding of zeolite nucleation and growth precludes the custom design of zeolites for these or other uses. It was hypothesized that the microgravity levels achieved in an orbiting spacecraft could help to isolate the possible effects of natural convection (which affects defect formation) and minimize sedimentation, which occurs since zeolites are twice as dense as the solution from which they are formed. This was expected to promote larger crystals by allowing growing crystals a longer residence time in a high-concentration nutrient field. Thus it was hypothesized that the microgravity environment of Earth orbit would allow the growth of large, more defect-free zeolite crystals in high yield.
Document ID
19950007812
Document Type
Conference Paper
Authors
Sacco, Albert, Jr. (Worcester Polytechnic Inst. MA, United States)
Bac, N. (Worcester Polytechnic Inst. MA, United States)
Coker, E. N. (Worcester Polytechnic Inst. MA, United States)
Dixon, A. G. (Worcester Polytechnic Inst. MA, United States)
Warzywoda, J. (Worcester Polytechnic Inst. MA, United States)
Thompson, R. W. (Worcester Polytechnic Inst. MA, United States)
Date Acquired
September 6, 2013
Publication Date
May 1, 1994
Publication Information
Publication: NASA. Marshall Space Flight Center, Joint Launch + One Year Science Review of USML-1 and USMP-1 with the Microgravity Measurement Group
Subject Category
MATERIALS PROCESSING
Distribution Limits
Public
Copyright
Work of the US Gov. Public Use Permitted.

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