- Conference date: 12-16 February 2006
- Location: Albuquerque, New Mexico (USA)
With the new direction of NASA to emphasize the exploration of the Moon, Mars and beyond, quick development and demonstration of efficient systems for In‐Situ Resources Utilization (ISRU) is more critical and timely than ever before. 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. This paper presents current development of miniaturized chemical processing systems that combine microchannel reactor design with nanofabricated catalysts. Carbon nanotubes (CNT) are used to produce a nanostructure within microchannel reactors, as support for catalysts. By virtue of their nanoscale dimensions, nanotubes geometrically restrict the catalyst particle size that can be supported upon the tube walls. By confining catalyst particles to sizes smaller than the CNT diameter, a more uniform catalyst particle size distribution may be maintained. The high dispersion permitted by the vast surface area of the nanoscale material serves to retain the integrity of the catalyst by reducing sintering or coalescence. Additionally, catalytic efficiency increases with decreasing catalyst particle size (reflecting higher surface area per unit mass) while chemical reactivity frequently is enhanced at the nanoscale. Particularly significant is the catalyst exposure. Rather than being confined within a porous material or deposited upon a 2‐d surface, the catalyst is fully exposed to the reactant gases by virtue of the nanofabricated support structure. The combination of microchannel technology with nanofabricated catalysts provides a synergistic effect, enhancing both technologies with the potential to produce much more efficient systems than either technology alone. The development of highly efficient microchannel reactors will be applicable to multiple ISRU programs. By selection of proper nanofabricated catalysts, the microchannel reactors can be designed for the processes that generate the most benefit for each mission, from early demonstration missions to long term settlements.
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