Makel Engineering has strong interest in the development and utilization of renewable fuels. Makel Engineering has ongoing research and field test demonstration activities in the utilization of biogas (e.g., dairy, landfill) for stationary power generation, and is currently partnering with the California Energy Commission and a major California utility (Sacramento Municipal Utility District SMUD). In most cases, clean up of the biogas stream is required. To date, the commercially available method is the use of a sorbent, like activated carbon filters, which eventually saturate and need to be disposed. If microreactor-based systems are successfully developed, catalytic clean-up will become cost-effective, and would eliminate the need to dispose of saturated filters. Processes of interest include desulfurization, removal of siloxane, etc. There is also growing interest in the production of biofuels from a variety of sources. Commercially, biodiesel is produced utilizing homogeneous catalysts. However, there is growing interest and research in the utilization of heterogeneous catalysts to simplify the production process and enable distributed production as smaller scales. Our proposed hierarchical support design is well suited for liquid biofuel production, as it provides excellent catalyst exposure, and precludes the need of separation of the catalyst from the product stream.
The primary target application of this technology is the inclusion of our prototype methanation reactor in the demonstration of an integrated carbothermal reduction system for the production of oxygen from lunar regolith. The development of highly efficient microchannel reactors will be applicable to multiple ISRU programs. As this technology can be applied to a wide range of processes, the applications are numerous. NASA is currently pursuing technologies to convert plastics and other crew solid waste to carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and/or water (per NASA SBIR 2009 Phase I solicitation). Our proposed microreactor could be used to subsequently convert these carbon oxides to methane as a fuel. Propellants can be produced from carbon dioxide (Mars atmosphere). Methane reformation can be used to produce hydrogen onboard fuel cell power rovers, enabling many mobility concepts. Ethylene can be produced from methane. Ethylene is a feedstock for production of polyethylene and ethanol. Methane reformation can produce hydrogen on board rovers to feed fuel cell power systems. Polyethylene can be used in the construction of habitats, tools, and replacement parts. Ethanol can be used as a nutrient for Astrobiology experiments, as well as a precursor for the production of nutrients (e.g. sugars) for human crew.