NASA SBIR 2004 Solicitation


PROPOSAL NUMBER: 04 X1.03-9527
SUBTOPIC TITLE: In-Situ Resource Processing and Refining
PROPOSAL TITLE: High-Yield Process for Selectively Converting CO2 to Aromatics and Olefins

SMALL BUSINESS CONCERN (Name, E-mail, Mail Address, City/State/Zip, Phone)
Eltron Research Inc
4600 Nautilus Court South
Boulder, CO 80301-3241

PRINCIPAL INVESTIGATOR/PROJECT MANAGER (Name, E-mail, Mail Address, City/State/Zip, Phone)
James H. White
4600 Nautilus Court South
Boulder, CO 80301-3241

This proposed Phase I addresses the selective conversion of CO2 to hydrocarbons via integrated CO2-to-methanol, methanol-to-olefins, and olefins-to-aromatics processes. Existing pathways to olefins and aromatics via methane exhibit low per-pass conversion. Fischer-Tropsch synthesis can provide much higher conversion, but into a broad spectrum of products. In contrast, it is possible to achieve high conversion and selectivity to specific olefins and aromatics via the proposed methanol pathway, with minimal net hydrogen consumption. Interest stems from in situ resources utilization (ISRU) of planetary (e.g., Martian) resources to reduce mission weight and cost with enhanced safety. Olefins and aromatics are attractive target species because of their high hydrogen leverage as well as their potential utility as fuels and feedstocks for polymers or other chemicals. Phase I will consist of the following: 1) identify, prepare, and characterize the best potential catalysts for principal process stages; 2) test catalysts under representative conditions; 3) identify the best route for converting CO2 to olefins and aromatics; and 4) estimate potential performance of an integrated system. During Phase II each process stage will be optimized, the stages integrated, and a working breadboard system designed and fabricated.

The technology developed in this overall program, if successful, would find use in the NASA ISRU portfolio in exploration of Mars and other planetary targets. It would find particular use in the selective synthesis of fuels and polymer precursors and would help reduce net mission weight. The ability to synthesize ethylene (and/or propylene) on Mars would enable a host of polymers and chemicals to be produced there.

Gas-to-liquids processes are becoming of increasing importance in commercial sectors because of high petroleum prices (and eventually, dwindling supply) and the need for technologies for better utilizing natural gas resources. The catalysts and process developed in this overall program will find use in converting natural gas (including low quality natural gas) to readily transportable methanol and hydrocarbons and will, consequently, be of interest to natural gas suppliers and petroleum companies and refiners. Additionally, the technology being developed will find use in the sequestration of CO2 in polymers.