Novel Method Enabling Micro-Sized Temperature Control

Physical Sciences : Chemical

Available for licensing


  • Michael Baldea, Ph.D. , Chemical Engineering
  • Richard Pattison , Chemical Engineering

Background/unmet need

The proliferation of shale plays and tight gas sand reservoirs being exploited over the last several years has created a large supply of natural gas and its byproducts. The optimization of these valuable hydrocarbons through direct conversion to gas liquids and other fuel products has become an important economic driver to insure long-term success of these capital-intensive projects.

Microchannel plate reactors are a promising route for converting methane from geographically distributed sources (e.g., shale gas deposits) into hydrogen or liquid transportation fuels. Their capacity is easily scalable by increasing the number of units and thus well suited to distributed production needs. However, miniaturization inevitably reduces the number of available actuators and sensors, and the control of these inherently distributed systems is very challenging.

Invention Description

Researchers at The University of Texas at Austin, concentrating on autothermal microchannel reactors producing syngas via methane-steam reforming, have introduced a novel temperature-control strategy based on the use of a layer of phase-change material (PCM) confined between the reactor plates.

The PCM layer mitigates temperature excursions through melting-solidification occurring due to fluctuations in hydrogen production rate, acting as the distributed tier of a hierarchical control structure. The supervisory layer consists of a model-based feed-forward controller.


  • Adjusts the geometry of the distributed temperature controller to minimize the effects of one or more potential disturbances
  • Imposes the pseudo-random multi-level sequence disturbance on a simulated autothermal catalytic plate reactor system during time-integration steps in an dynamic optimization algorithm


  • A method of stochastically optimizing the geometry of the distributed temperature controller of the autothermal catalytic plate reactor 
  • Defines one or more potential operating disturbances in the autothermal catalytic plate reactor as pseudo-random multi-level sequences

Market potential/applications

Micro-reactors; microchannel reactors; H2 production; syngas production; catalytic fuel cells

Development Stage

Proof of concept

IP Status