Preliminary Testing of Electrolytic Silver Ion Generation for Spacecraft Potable Water Systems
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Anodic dissolution of silver electrodes, or “silver electrolysis,” is being investigated as a means of imparting biocidal silver into potable water on exploration spacecraft. This method of water disinfection is used commercially in hospitals and marine vessels, but the spacecraft application poses unique challenges such as low water conductivity, increased importance of electrode longevity, and an interface with other systems that may be sensitive to any particles released in the electrolysis process. Testing has shown that due to the low conductivity of the water, the electroactive area of the cell can be scaled linearly to achieve a target electrolysis current despite the general non-linearity of electrochemical systems. More importantly, however, the low conductivity dictates that a large electroactive area and minimal electrode gap be employed in the design. Furthermore, thermodynamic considerations suggest that a low applied voltage is necessary to avoid undesired electrode reactions that could negatively impact long-term performance. Preliminary testing of long-term electrode health suggests that anodic oxide formation may not present as significant a challenge as anticipated; however, further testing in a system closed to the atmosphere is required to rule out the influence of atmospheric CO2 on the pH of the process water. Comparison of filtered and unfiltered silver concentration measurements indicates that release of particles larger than 0.2 μm was negligible in this preliminary test. A test article has been developed to facilitate further testing of silver electrolysis, which continues to be a candidate technology for spacecraft potable water disinfection.