Engine Chemical Reactor with Catalyst

Technology #17057

Questions about this technology? Ask a Technology Manager

Download Printable PDF

Image Gallery
Leslie Bromberg
Plasma Science and Fusion Center, MIT
Alexander Sappok
Department of Mechanical Engineering, MIT
John Brisson
Professor William Green
Department of Chemical Engineering, MIT
External Link (cheme.scripts.mit.edu)
Managed By
Christopher Noble
MIT Technology Licensing Officer - Clean and Renewable Energy
Patent Protection

Engine Chemical Reactor with Catalyst

US Patent Pending US 2014-0374660


This technology relates to the use of internal-combustion cylinder engine compression to perform catalytic chemistry for a number of applications.

Problem Addressed

Engines have been proposed as chemical reactors for applications other than power or motion, such as reforming natural gas or other light compounds, manufacturing acetylene, and even manufacturing hydrogen rich gas. However, all these reactors require a catalyst.


The present technology is comprised of two main factors: the use of a catalyst and porous foam within a cylinder. The catalyst itself can be applied either directly to the material of the porous material, or it can be applied as a coating on the porous material. The porous foam  material can be either metallic or non-metallic. However, metallic foams - such as aluminum, copper, nickel, tin, zinc, etc. - are preferred because of the ductile nature of the material, as opposed to ceramic, brittle foams.

The use of a porous foam creates a pressure difference; however, the size of the pores can be adjusted to decrease the pressure drop in the case of high flow rates associated with fast engine speeds. Additionally, the presence of foams in the cylinder chamber dramatically increase the thermal mass of the material in the chamber. This allows having the catalyst and gas at different temperatures, offering the possibility of controlling the temperature of the reaction through the foam catalyst.


  • Catalysts affect reactions differently, whether they are placed inside the foam, as a coating around the foam, or even as a concentration gradient across the foam. Additionally, upon consumption of the catalyst, engines can easily be disposed and replaced given their low costs or the catalyst can be reactivated by periodically placing a liquid, gaseous or dispersed solids mixture in the cylinder in order to deposit the desired catalyst on the foam.

  • Many reactions, both endothermic and exothermic, can be engineered. The engine catalyst could be very attractive for reactions that require very high pressures, temperatures, or both, that are difficult to achieve in conventional reactors.