The research seeks to investigate scientific aspects of nanocatalytic combustion that are necessary for creating palm-size electric generators. Such portable power devices could be recharged quickly and fueled with high-energy-density liquid fuels (e.g., methanol: 22 MJ/kg, ethanol: 25 MJ/kg) compared to batteries (~0.5 MJ/kg), potentially valuable for many applications. One key is to use catalytic combustion, and the high reactivity of nano-sized catalytic metal particles could reduce the amount of catalyst needed, reduce the required operating temperatures, reduce heat loss, and increase overall system efficiency. In light of all of their advantages, too little is however known about the specifics that control the increased reactivity observed using nano-sized catalytic particles.
To improve fundamental understanding of the reactivity of nano-sized catalytic particles and enable their use in commercial technology, proposed study would involve an experimental investigation of catalytic combustion utilizing nano-sized particles in a flow reactor. The PIs have conducted preliminary experiments to demonstrate low light-off temperatures and low-temperature oxidation of methanol in a quartz-tube reactor, and they now propose to study the effects of catalyst particle size, catalyst mass loading, and catalyst deactivation systematically. Proposed experiments will characterize the combustion process in the catalytic bed reactor from temperature measurements and the catalyst by ex-situ analysis using SEM and TEM. Additionally, design and characterization of a meso-scale reactor in a planar geometry is proposed, interfacing with a thermo-electric generator as a means of palm-size electric generator. Modeling will be carried out utilizing commercial computational-fluid-dynamics software coupled with the Surface CHEMKIN chemical-kinetics model.
In additional to the scientific and technological impact of this work, it provides a valuable opportunity to train students in the promising area of catalytic combustion. Special attention will be given to attracting students from under-represented groups who might not otherwise consider advanced education or combustion science through existing programs at Drexel. Current outreach programs at Drexel University work with Philadelphia and Delaware Middle and High School teachers (MSP, RET) and will be enhanced with exercises in combustion, catalysis, nanotechnology and energy issues. By introducing these issues to a broad group of largely under-represented minority students, it will hopefully help them to further their interest in STEM fields.