Refractron's Pourous Alumina Tubes Used in Space Hydroponics

Refractron and Utah State Collaborate on Space Hydroponics Under NASA Grant

Nov 8, 2022

Refractron porous alumina tubes are an integral component for the root zone management system for next generation space crop production.

Working closely with Utah State University’s College of Agriculture & Applied Sciences under a NASA grant, we optimized the pore size to achieve the precise nutrient and water distribution required for plant growth. We also improved the strength of the tubes in our second generation to make them more durable during installation and handling, and to increase longevity. This will allow successive generations of crop production in microgravity to supply our astronauts and future long-term space settlements with fresh and sustainable food.

Refractron alumina tubes have also allowed researchers at Utah State University to study drought conditions more precisely, improving knowledge and development of drought resistant crops to increase yields and ease global shortages.


What Makes Porous Alumina Ideal for Aerospace Applications?

The application for NASA is unique, but Refractron’s family of porous alumina materials make it an ideal choice for many products. These applications fall into three broad categories: filters, diffusers or spargers, and wicks.

Alumina ceramic filters have high chemical resistance, and their robust nature allows them to be used in harsh environments with the ability to be backflushed with high pressure steam (such as in sulphur polishing or chromium removal).

As a diffuser, the hydrophilic nature of porous alumina imparts some unique properties. Water is drawn into the pore structure by capillary action and bubbles are formed inside the pore, allowing us to manipulate the grit size to tailor the bubble size to optimize performance. This is important in carbonating beverages and purifying water with ozone.

Refractron alumina is also used in wicking applications like fingerprint pads and fragrance diffusers where controlled, timed release of the product is required.

Industry Leading Technologies and Techniques for the Most Demanding Applications

Refractron utilizes several forming technologies to manufacture porous ceramic tubes, discs, plates, and rods with mean pore size ranging from 0.1 micron to 1000+ microns. An on-site machine shop is utilized for applications that require unique shapes or tight tolerances. Refractron’s porous materials expertise includes 85-91% glass bonded alumina (Al2O3), sintered 99% alumina for higher temperature stability and reaction bonded silicon carbide (SiC) with high temperature creep resistance.

Please contact Refractron if you would like a free engineering assessment to see if resilient porous ceramics are a good choice for your application.

“We have worked with Refractron for several years to develop custom applications for our NASA funded research.  We will be using Refractron porous tubes for precision sub-surface watering and fertilization of plants on the International Space Station. Thank you for accommodating our unique needs.  You are a valuable partner in this cutting-edge research.”

Prof. Bruce Bugbee

Professor of Crop Physiology, Dept of Plants, Soils, and Climate, Utah State University