NASA SBIR 2004 Solicitation


PROPOSAL NUMBER: 04 X1.03-8561
SUBTOPIC TITLE: In-Situ Resource Processing and Refining
PROPOSAL TITLE: Integrated Microchannel Reformer/Hydrogen Purifier for Fuel Cell Power Systems

SMALL BUSINESS CONCERN (Name, E-mail, Mail Address, City/State/Zip, Phone)
Makel Engineering,Inc.
1585 Marauder Street
Chico, CA 95973-9064

PRINCIPAL INVESTIGATOR/PROJECT MANAGER (Name, E-mail, Mail Address, City/State/Zip, Phone)
Darby B Makel
1585 Marauder Street
Chico, CA 95973-9064

Makel Engineering, Inc. (MEI) and Colorado School of Mines (CSM) propose to develop an integrated hydrogen generator and purifier system for conversion of in-situ produced hydrocarbons to fuel-cell-grade hydrogen. NASA is currently developing several In Situ Resources Utilization (ISRU) Systems. One technology commonly found in most ISRU scenarios is the use of the Sabatier reaction and water electrolysis to produce methane and oxygen. Due to the various penalties of storing gaseous hydrogen on-board the rover, it is advantageous to carry methane instead of hydrogen and to have an on-board reformer to produce hydrogen on-demand for the fuel cell. Proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cells hydrogen with very low carbon monoxide content (typically less than 10 ppm). The proposed system will combine microchannel microreformer technology for hydrogen production with palladium membranes technology for hydrogen purification and separation in an integrated hydrogen production system, resulting in optimized size and energy efficiency. This proposal will seek to establish the feasibility of using compact microchannel/membrane reactor systems to provide purified hydrogen for fuel cell power systems for applications such as robotic and crew transportation rovers.

The technology developed for the proposed Reformer System will serve in multiple future exploration missions. The application is of direct use for any applications where mobile power is required, such as rovers and crew transport vehicles. For instance, in the earlier precursor robotic missions, robotic rovers may be needed for automated ISRU plants, to transport materials being processed, etc. In the later manned missions, the crew transportation vehicles may be use to aid extra-vehicular activities.

Advanced high-density hydrogen storage and generation systems have far reaching commercial importance. Integration of such systems with fuel cells offer the promise of generating electricity and heat while offering several benefits relative to conventional generators including reduced noise, reduced emissions, high energy efficiency, and reduced maintenance. As a widespread hydrogen fuel distribution infrastructure does not meaningfully exist, the challenges posed by high-density hydrogen storage create commercial opportunities for innovative product solutions. Thus, a fuel processor with the capability to reliably generate high-purity hydrogen remains a necessary enabling component to realize practical commercial fuel cell systems.