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  • Air, carbon dioxide and water as oxidizers for metal-based fuels for aerospace propulsion and future space missions

    Paper number



    Mr. ILYES GHEDJATTI, China, Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics (BUAA)


    Dr. Shiwei Yuan, China, Beijing University of Aeronatics and Astronautics


    Prof. Haixing Wang, China, Beijing University of Aeronatics and Astronautics



    The performance of a propellant depends critically on its combustion characteristics which have a direct impact on the system performance, reliability, long-term stability and environmental footprint. Also, cost, operability and material availability must be considered. Metal combustion has been studied since the 1960s as a viable solution for propulsion, power and storage systems. Metals can react with air, carbon dioxide or water to generate thermal and chemical energy for various applications. These reactions generate metal-oxides when metals are reacting with air, hydrogen when reacting with water and carbon monoxide as well as a small amount of carbon when reacting with carbon dioxide. The objective of this work is to explore and investigate relevant, recent alternatives for developing clean energy with high performances based on metal-air reactions, metal-water reactions that can generate hydrogen as a secondary fuel; or even metal-carbon dioxide reactions that can be conducted on-site in Mars for exploration missions. The main combustion and propulsion characteristics of these metal fuels are numerically investigated through the Rocket Propulsion Analysis software and compared. When metals are reacting with air or iced water, metal-oxides can be captured and recycled to achieve low-net-carbon emissions while hydrogen can act as a secondary fuel to enhance combustion. Such fuels can be applied for Earth to Orbit missions and Moon missions. Metal fuels can also react with carbon dioxide which is the main component of the atmosphere of Mars (95.9%) for propulsion and on-site energy generation. Thus, metals represent a promising solution for the future of aerospace propulsion, space missions and energy-conversion systems due to their high energy densities, reactivity with the aforementioned oxidizers and wide availability. However, there are always key limitations that are in this case about the waste of thermal energy for low-temperature reactions and the waste of chemical energy for high-temperature reactions. Also, this concept when applied for onboard vehicles presents some drawbacks related to storage systems and reaction rate kinetics. Based on previous findings raised in our work, the energy-related challenges of power-generation systems and devices, inherent safety and low-storage-density limitations can be overcome by harnessing either thermal and chemical energies. Developing such energy technologies will absolutely contribute in reducing the environmental burdens and increasing safety and performance. Such applications seem to be promising alternatives for either current or future, civilian or military applications and space missions.
    Abstract document


    Manuscript document

    IAC-19,C4,6,1,x51018.pdf (🔒 authorized access only).

    To get the manuscript, please contact IAF Secretariat.