NASA Selects ISRU Proposals From Paragon, Lynntech for SBIR Phase II Awards

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NASA’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program has selected for funding proposals from Paragon Space Development Corp. and Lynntech, Inc. for the development of systems that can convert carbon dioxide into methane on Mars. The projects will receive SBIR Phase II funding.

“Paragon Space Development Corporation (Paragon) and ENrG Incorporated (ENrG) are teaming to provide a highly efficient reactor for carbon monoxide/carbon dioxide (CO/CO2) conversion into methane (CH4). The system is a gravity-independent, compact, leak-tight, Solid Oxide Electrolyzer (SOE) system with embedded Sabatier reactors (ESR),” according to the proposal summary.

“SOE/ESRs can be used to produce oxygen from in situ planetary resources and to regenerate 100% of the oxygen needs of a crew from crew-produced CO2 and H2O vapor. The SOE/ESR can be designed to satisfy various missions, regardless of destination or the technology chosen for using the extraterrestrial resources (e.g., hydrogen vs carbothermal lunar regolith reduction). SOE operated as a regenerative fuel can supply power, for example when solar power is unavailable,” the summary states.

In its proposal, Lynntech said it has developed a way to deal with thermal management problems that exist within reactors during the conversion process.

“Lynntech has demonstrated the feasibility of a novel low power, low temperature plasma assisted catalysis process for addressing these limitations with the methanation of CO2 at a scale of 14 g/h methane production rate,” according to the proposal. “In the Phase II project, Lynntech proposes to build and demonstrate a full scale (0.55 kg/h methane production rate) Sabatier reactor for NASA application.

“Lynntech’s non thermal plasma assisted Sabatier reactor technology provides an energy efficient, low temperature and durable product for the generation of methane from CO2 for following NASA applications: (1) Propellant production on Mars from the Martian CO2, (2) Atmospheric revitalization of the cabin environment for utilization of CO2 in the cabin,” the summary states.

The two projects were among 108 proposals that NASA selected for SBIR Phase II funding. The awards last no more than two years. Funding can be up to $750,000 per project or up to $1.5 million per project, depending upon the type of award made.

PROPOSAL SUMMARY
Paragon Space Development Corporation
Tucson, AZ

PROPOSAL TITLE: Highly Efficient Solid Oxide Electrolyzer & Sabatier System

SUBTOPIC TITLE: In-Situ Resource Utilization

Estimated Technology Readiness Level (TRL) at beginning and end of contract: 
Begin: 3
End: 4

TECHNICAL ABSTRACT

Paragon Space Development Corporation (Paragon) and ENrG Incorporated (ENrG) are teaming to provide a highly efficient reactor for carbon monoxide/carbon dioxide (CO/CO2) conversion into methane (CH4). The system is a gravity-independent, compact, leak-tight, Solid Oxide Electrolyzer (SOE) system with embedded Sabatier reactors (ESR). Applying Corning Incorporated (Corning) Intellectual Property (IP), ENrG and Paragon can leverage an all-ceramic, efficient, and low mass solid oxide fuel cell (SOFC) that remains leak-tight after hundreds of thermal cycles. Paragon proposes that incorporation of the all-ceramic technology into our SOE/ESR system will result in a design that will: 1) be thermally shock tolerant and capable of hundreds of on-off cycles at faster cycles than compared to the metal-to-ceramic SOE designs, 2) be lighter, smaller, and require less power than existing designs, 3) allow for high (>90%) single pass utilization of feedstock, and 4) achieve a thermodynamic efficiency of up to 80%. Our Phase II effort includes laboratory tests to optimize operation of an all-ceramic design for increased single pass utilization of the feed stock and mitigation of carbon deposition. Engineering analyses and component testing will be performed to inform the design of a stack. The stack will be built and tested to verify requirements. Results will be used to size a full system with recommendations for integration. An engineering development unit will be built and delivered to NASA. Integrating cells that operate as either an electrolyzer or a Sabatier reactor simplifies operations, lowers hardware complexity, and increases reliability. The proposed system can perform multiple functions without modifications, making it a readily deployable technology for various missions from ISRU on the Moon and Mars to regenerating 100% of a crew’s oxygen in spacecraft or habitats.

POTENTIAL NASA COMMERCIAL APPLICATIONS 

SOE/ESRs can be used to produce oxygen from in situ planetary resources and to regenerate 100% of the oxygen needs of a crew from crew-produced CO2 and H2O vapor. The SOE/ESR can be designed to satisfy various missions, regardless of destination or the technology chosen for using the extraterrestrial resources (e.g., hydrogen vs carbothermal lunar regolith reduction). SOE operated as a regenerative fuel can supply power, for example when solar power is unavailable.

POTENTIAL NON-NASA COMMERCIAL APPLICATIONS 

SOE/ESR development could allow less massive oxygen systems in commercial spacecraft vehicles currently under development. A point underscored by Paragon’s existing relationships with industry. SOE/ESR oxygen regeneration systems can also be utilized in underwater research facilities, submarines, high altitude aircraft, or emergency bunkers. Hazardous material handlers, rescue personnel, or other professionals performing in extreme environments would benefit greatly from a self-contained oxygen supply system that requires no external supply of consumables. Also, SOE operated as a regenerative fuel can be used in back-up emergency power systems or as relief systems during high energy-use periods of the day.

TECHNOLOGY TAXONOMY MAPPING 

  • Ceramics
  • Essential Life Resources (Oxygen, Water, Nutrients)
  • Fuels/Propellants
  • Generation
  • Simulation & Modeling
  • Storage

PROPOSAL SUMMARY
Lynntech, Inc.
College Station, TX

PROPOSAL TITLE: Non Thermal Plasma Assisted Catalytic Reactor for CO2 Methanation

SUBTOPIC TITLE: In-Situ Resource Utilization

Estimated Technology Readiness Level (TRL) at beginning and end of contract:
Begin: 3
End: 4

TECHNICAL ABSTRACT

In situ production of methane as propellant by methanation of CO2, also called Sabatier reaction, is a key enabling technology required for sustainable and affordable human exploration of Mars. The Sabatier reaction is conventionally carried out in a fixed bed catalyst at high temperatures of 350-400 ?C. For the long duration future Mars missions (~ 18 months expected stay on Mars), the fixed bed Sabatier reactor design however is inadequate due to performance and catalyst durability issues. In addition thermal management within the reactor is a major issue due to exothermicity of the reaction. Lynntech has demonstrated the feasibility of a novel low power, low temperature plasma assisted catalysis process for addressing these limitations with the methanation of CO2 at a scale of 14 g/h methane production rate. In the Phase II project, Lynntech proposes to build and demonstrate a full scale (0.55 kg/h methane production rate) Sabatier reactor for NASA application. The anticipated Technology Readiness Level at the beginning and ending of Phase II will be 3 and 4, respectively.

POTENTIAL NASA COMMERCIAL APPLICATIONS

Lynntech’s non thermal plasma assisted Sabatier reactor technology provides an energy efficient, low temperature and durable product for the generation of methane from CO2 for following NASA applications: (1) Propellant production on Mars from the Martian CO2, (2) Atmospheric revitalization of the cabin environment for utilization of CO2 in the cabin.

POTENTIAL NON-NASA COMMERCIAL APPLICATIONS

The Sabatier technology can be used for CO2 sequestration or as an intermediate processing technique for fuel or chemical production in the commercial market. The primary and sub-markets for Lynntech’s Sabatier technology are as follows: (1) CO2 sequestration with SNG formation for a number of areas including power plants and petrochemical industry. (2) CO removal (specific methanation) technology for purification of reformate or hydrogen streams from fuel reformation. (3) Reformation processes such as dry reforming of methane with CO2. The plasma assisted catalytic reactor design has several applications in following areas: (1) Gas purification (such as impurity removal from biogas, natural gas, LPG, etc.), (2) Diesel exhaust gas purification for NOx and SOx abatement, (3) Fuel reformation for hydrogen generation and (4) Sluggish catalytic reactions requiring high activation energies.

TECHNOLOGY TAXONOMY MAPPING

  • Fuels/Propellants
  • Heat Exchange
  • In Situ Manufacturing
  • Resource Extraction