Sustainable Innovations (SI), a waste and energy innovator, has bagged a contract to supply a commercial-scale helium (He) recycling system to NASA.

SI’s Helium Recovery System (HRS) selectively removes hydrogen (H2) from the He purge gas used in rocket fuelling operations, with the He expended then recovered and recycled.

At the centre of the HRS technology is SI’s H2RENEWTM – an electrochemical system that separates and compresses H2, which can then also be reused in industrial applications such as specialty metals and semiconductor processing.

H2RENEW, which is based on a proton exchange membrane (PEM) platform technology, is currently under commercial development, with the system delivered to NASA defined as Phase I. 

It is understood that the innovations demonstrated during Phase I will be scaled under its current Phase II programme, which will see the H2RENEW system being integrated into SI’s large-scale electrochemical module design.

Dr. Trent Molter, President and CEO of the US-based business, explained, “The goal of the NASA Phase I project was to double the capacity of the individual electrochemical separation cells while maintaining optimal operating efficiency and durability.”

Ongoing rocket test operations at NASA Stennis Space Centre (SSC) in Mississippi expels valuable, scarce He into the atmosphere, along with a substantial amount H2 which is flared upon rocket test cycle completion. In conjunction with a global He price hike due to worldwide shortages, SI’s system aims to fill the gap in finding an efficient and economical method of He recovery.