Student: Elspeth Petersen, Graduate Student in Chemical Engineering, Iowa State University
Faculty Advisor: Jean-Philippe Tessonnier
High-Performance Catalysts for the Reduction of CO2 and Trash-Derived Gas: Advancing ISRU Technologies to Fuel the Missions to Mars
In order to return a crew or samples from Mars, we must transport fuel for an ascent vehicle from Earth or make it on site. These rockets are estimated to require 23 tons of liquid oxygen and 7 tons of liquid methane for each launch. Transporting this fuel from Earth is not logistically feasible, therefore, it must be made on site from resources on the planet. A Mars lander will be sent ahead of a crewed mission to capture carbon dioxide from the Martian atmosphere and split water found in the ground into oxygen and hydrogen. The carbon dioxide and hydrogen will be combined in a reactor to produce methane. This reaction requires a catalyst for reasonable methane production rates. The catalyst does not get used up by the reaction, but it can become less active over time. The catalysts currently available for the reaction stop working after a relatively short time. I am working with NASA to develop a catalyst that can withstand the harsh reaction conditions to ensure proper reactor performance. In order to design a reliable and effective catalyst, the role of the catalyst support must be fully understood. My research involves the synthesis and testing of a number of catalysts and how their material properties affect the stability of the catalyst. The reactor is projected to operate continuously for 480 days to produce the required 7 tons of methane needed for each ascent vehicle. Consequently, the reliability of this catalyst is imperative to the success of the human exploration of Mars.