Energy Minimum Road to Outer Space

Energy Minimum Road to Outer Space


Guest Blog

Posted by Rohvannyn on February 8, 2013 at 1:30 PM

Here is a message from my friend Eric:


Ever hear of ?


Their team is quite a read. You and I would fit in there, somewhere.  I heard about them when I was on after following a link about a group that wanted to fab, that is 3D print, habitats on the moon or asteroids, out of moon or asteroid materials.  I think this group would be interested in your writing and blog.


I originally thought "another group of crazies." Then I got real interested when they were talking about their micro gravity foundry stuff.  I had known about a strange substance, nickel carbonyl. It's a volatile liquid at room temperature. It is more of a physical compound than a chemical compound in my opinion. Take metallic nickel expose it to pure carbon monoxide, optimally at 130 degrees C., the carbon monoxide molecules, four, surround the nickel atom and produce a complex. There appears to be no oxidation or reduction for this to happen.


Shine your laser focus onto a build platform in this gas and voila the heat cracks the nickel carbonyl back to a spot of pure nickel metal and carbon monoxide gas. The carbon monoxide is free to go react with more nickel metal source material away from the build area. So the metal appears on the build platform as drawn by the laser's focus.


Where do you get all this nickel? chunks of metallic asteroids of course.  Well, you might say, meteorites and asteroids, if they are metallic are iron-nickel alloy. All this iron is going to get in the way isn't it? No. Iron also forms a carbonyl also, but at a higher temperature. It's created and destroyed in a steel mills blast furnace.  


It's almost like photosynthesis, that is, water vapor and carbon dioxide gasses plus sunlight forms carbohydrate, trees. It's not exactly like photosynthesis but similar in the sense that in this space filled with carbon monoxide, you can mine metal from rocks and adjacent in this atmosphere you can deposit in a very controlled way that very pure metal.


Let's start a company to do this. We will call it United Monoxide or Union Monoxide. Ha Ha! I didn't invent that name. It came from the Fire Sign Theater guys spoofing Union Carbide or someone else responsible for the Bhopal chemical disaster.


Oh by the way nickel carbonyl is the most toxic known industrial chemical.  This stems from high volatility, boiling point 38 Degrees C. and it's reactivity. It lasts in air about one minute. That means the concentration drops by one over e in a minute. It has a musty swampy odor. If you smell it, at low ppm levels, you will likely die soon.


Toxicity comes from the hydrolysis of nickel carbonyl where you get poisoned by the released carbon monoxide and the released nickel, a heavy metal.


The way to deal with the extreme toxicity of this stuff is to never have much of it around. Only enough is needed to make a small amount of the vapor in a small chamber. Where it is used immediately after it forms. None of the nickel carbonyl is purchased or stored. It just forms when the warmed metal is in a carbon monoxide atmosphere. This uses up the carbon monoxide as the carbonyl forms. When the carbon monoxide is used up the the production of carbonyl stops. The carbon monoxide reappears where heat from the laser forms metallic nickel. That consumes the nickel carbonyl and the released carbon monoxide is free to react with the raw material nickel again.


So the process can be run in a fairly safe way if the nickel carbonyl is never allowed to accumulate beyond a few milligrams while the process is running. When shutting down the process, the raw nickel is cut off from the carbon monoxide and cooled. The laser continues to run to burn out the remaining nickel carbonyl in the build chamber. The build chamber is pumped out, mostly carbon monoxide gas, for later reuse. The build chamber is then opened and vented. The tiny residual of nickel carbonyl in the build chamber will quickly drop to sub parts per billion in a minute or two.


I don't know if your browser will find all the text on the web site but some how you will probably find a way to explore it fully.


This is exciting stuff.



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