Shape Memory Alloy Rock Splitters (SMARS)

Organization: NASA Glenn Research Center
Co-Developer(s): Jacobs Engineering
Year: 2017

Originally developed for use in space—where conventional techniques for rock splitting are either not functional or dangerous to attempt—the Shape Memory Alloy Rock Splitters (SMARS) system offers an environmentally friendly method for splitting apart rock formations in a controlled manner without the use of explosives or hydraulics. It provides a compact, powerful method for fracturing rocklike materials and has applications in hydraulic fracturing, oil drilling, mining, geological studies, civil engineering, paleontological and archaeological digs, and search-and-rescue missions—essentially any fields that require compact, but large and static forces. Conventional approaches to rock splitting present many difficulties in transportation and operation, and can badly damage underlying samples and negatively impact the surrounding environment. The SMARS innovation takes advantage of cutting-edge SMA compositions, which have unique phase-change characteristics and the capability to be “trained” for use in repeatable transformation. The SMA material is trained to expand when heated to a pre-selected temperature. When the SMA is later inserted into a close space, such as a drilled hole or a crack within the rock walls, and then heated to that actuation temperature, it exerts a larger force until the rock formation breaks apart. As the SMA material cools, it reverts to its original shape at which point the device can be used again.