In-Situ Resources Utilization (ISRU)

 
Affordable planning and execution of prolonged manned space missions depend upon the utilization of local resources and the waste products which are formed in manned spacecraft and surface bases. Successful in-situ resources utilization (ISRU) will require component technologies which provide optimal size, weight, volume, and power efficiency.
 
Compact, light-weight, efficient chemical processing systems will enable minimization of re-supply from Earth, give more flexibility to EVA by incorporating man-portable Life Support systems, improve mobility by providing fuel for rovers (e.g., use of reformers to produce hydrogen for fuel-cell powered rovers), produce fuel for return missions, etc.
 
Microchannel chemical processing technology can be applied to many ISRU scenarios and other space applications. Integration of multiple chemical processing steps and/or incorporation of auxiliary components, such as regenerative heat exchangers, condensers and instrumentation maximize the benefits of the technology, resulting in highly compact systems. Such compact units are ideal platforms to provide point-of-source processing of in-situ resources, localized air revitalization, as well recycling/recovery of resources.
 
Ongoing Research
 
 

Microchannel Reformer and Purification System
for Fuel Cell Applications

 
This project aims to combine microchannel microreformer technology for hydrogen production with palladium membrane technology for hydrogen purification and separation in an integrated hydrogen production system, resulting in optimized size and energy efficiency. The resulting integrated unit will provide the separation of hydrogen from diluent gases (e.g. carbon dioxide), promoting higher efficiency of the fuel cell stack, and the production of high purity hydrogen, suitable for PEM fuel cells, which require CO levels lower than 10-20 ppm.
  In Situ Manufacture of Plastics and Composites  
 
This program will demonstrate the synthesis of polyethylene from carbon dioxide and water (Mars In Situ Resources and metabolic waste), combining microchannel reactor technology for production of ethylene with conventional reactor systems for the production of polyethylene. Polyethylene can be used for the fabrication of useful structures for future human and robotic exploration missions, such as habitats and radiation shielding, spare parts, self replicating machines, etc.

Nanocatalysts for Microchannel Reactors

The goal of this project is to develop microchannel reactors using carbon nanotubes (CNT) exoskeletal structure as catalyst support within microchannel layers. One of the greatest advantages of this support arrangement is the enhancement of catalytic activity by providing superior catalyst exposure to the reaction media, while maintaining catalyst integrity.