Cross-Flow Microchannel Combustor for Heat Transfer in Logistics Fuel Reformer

Period of Performance: 12/09/2002 - 06/09/2003


Phase 1 SBIR

Recipient Firm

Innovatek, Inc.
3100 George Washington Way
Richland, WA 99354
Principal Investigator


In this Small Business Innovation Research Phase I project, InnovaTek will develop and demonstrate a novel catalytic microchannel combustion system configured for cross-flow operation. The microchannel combustor will be capable achieving high heat transfer rates and will provide a uniform temperature profile in microreactor channel. These advantages provide the opportunity to achieve efficiency improvements in catalytic microchannel reformer process resulting in reduced size and weight for larger scale layered reformer systems. In Phase I, mathematical and CFD process models for combustor operation and heat transfer performance will be developed. These models will provide the basis for design and fabrication of a single-plate microchannel prototype system for testing microchannel combustion characteristics. Experience gained from this testing will be factored into the model and used to design and fabricate a multi-plate combustor. This prototype will be used in a "proof-of-concept" test to demonstrate system durability in continuous operation for at least 24 hours. In Phase II, the concept will be scaled into a multi-layered, fully integrated fuel processor system capable of supplying pure hydrogen to a 1 kW PEM fuel cell for electrical generation. Designs and plans will be developed for scale-up to 500 kW systems. Polymer Electrolyte Membrane (PEM) fuel cells offer an attractive opportunity to provide a portable, quiet and efficient system for electrical generation. Such systems can provide portable power for military field use, and for civilian recreational and transportation applications. In order to achieve this potential, an equally quiet, efficient and portable supply of hydrogen gas is needed. A portable steam reformer capable of producing hydrogen from infrastructure fuels offers an ideal solution as the complementary technical solution. The novel cross-flow microchannel combustor that will be developed in this proposed work will provide a critical complement to our present goal of developing steam reforming for commercial and military applications. In the combustor, heat from the combustion process will directly heat a catalytic microchannel reactor providing the maximum opportunity for heat utilization by the catalyzed process. Anticipated benefits include increased specific reaction rates and conversion, smaller size with less weight and reduced relative heat losses through the reactor skin. A multi-layered microchannel structure that will constitute the final reactor will become the core of an integrated fuel processor capable of utilizing gasoline, diesel or JP-8 as a fuel source. A steam reformer with these characteristics will have commercial applications for both portable and stationary markets and when mated to a compatibly-sized PEM fuel cell will provide an ideal option for portable field generation.