In an inconspicuous office park in North Salt Lake, the team at OxEon Energy works in their new office and workshop toward a very ambitious goal: making it possible to live and work on the moon and Mars.
The Utah Science Technology and Research Initiative (USTAR) client company is among 10 teams that were selected to share approximately $10 million in funding from NASA to explore new technologies to utilize and develop the necessary resources to sustain human life during space exploration.
Since space lacks breathable oxygen, one of the biggest challenges as NASA prepares for a return to the moon and for human exploration of Mars is finding ways to sustain human life. In order to make long-term habitation or exploration possible, oxygen must be produced by chemical conversions of other existing elemental compounds in a way that they can be separated and processed into breathable air.
OxEon Energy’s solid oxide electrolysis technology offers a potential solution to this challenge, which is why they were selected to participate in NASA's Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships (NextSTEP) program. In addition to OxEon Energy, the class of companies selected to participate include Blue Origin, Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos’ space venture, the United Launch Alliance, and UTC Aerospace Systems, one of the world’s largest suppliers of aerospace and defense products.
“This establishes a Utah business as the leader in this important technology field,” said Lyman Frost, CEO of Oxeon Energy. “This win strengthens Utah reputation as a leader in deep technology.” OxEon was the only startup company selected to participate in NASA’s NextSTEP.
In some their work with NASA, OxEon Energy will use solid oxide electrolysis to produce oxygen using the carbon dioxide that makes up Mars’ atmosphere. When carbon dioxide is passed through OxEon’s electrolysis stack, an electrolyzed reaction separates the carbon and oxygen ions. The oxygen ions are then oxidized electrochemically to produce gaseous, breathable oxygen.
In order to function in the extremities on Mars and caused by space travel itself, OxEon’s technology is designed to be capable of withstanding the shock, vibrations, and compression caused by the rocket launch and the landing impact, as well as function in temperatures ranging from -70°F to over 1472°F. OxEon Energy’s technology will be tested in the next rover to Mars in 2020 as part of the Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment, better known as MOXIE.
While their eyes are set on space, OxEon Energy is also celebrating key successes in the space, defense, and energy markets here on earth. To date, the company has been awarded approximately $5.86 million in contracts, including key agreements with NASA, the Naval Research Laboratory, and Department of Energy. OxEon also recently announced a licensing agreement with the Calvert Energy Group in Switzerland to help market OxEon’s gas-to-liquids technologies internationally and begin to enter the $118 billion clean energy market.
OxEon Energy worked with NASA and the Jet Propulsion Laboratories to develop technology that will be used to produce aboard the Mars 2020 Rover.
Since the company was founded and launched out of the USTAR Innovation Center at Falcon Hill in 2017, OxEon Energy has grown from three to 11 full-time employees, moved to their own 7,500 square-foot office and research space, and added nearly $1 million in salaries and equipment purchases into the local economy.
Their accelerated development, says Frost, was made possible because of the state’s strong commitment to supporting small businesses. In particular, the USTAR Innovation Center and a Technology Acceleration Program (TAP) grant provided the necessary technical support and funding needed for deep technology startups such as OxEon Energy to commercialize their products.
“USTAR enables small business entities to address critical technology issues in a timely fashion,” said Frost. “It would have taken several years for OxEon, or any typical small business, to accumulate the funding required. The TAP funding accelerated that timeline and allowed OxEon to develop the data and product needed to compete against much larger firms.”
To learn more about OxEon Energy visit oxeonenergy.com. To learn more about USTAR programs and other client companies supported by USTAR, visit ustar.org.