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Wednesday, May 15, 2024

Vijay Ramani's Tech Genius Can Speed Up The Arrival Of Human Colonies On Mars

We’re already seeing NASA working to take the man to Mars, however, we have several challenges along the way for this long and arduous journey and one of them is sourcing oxygen on the red planet. 

mars fuel water

Carbon dioxide makes up 96 percent of gas on Mars with oxygen being barely 0.1 percent. Currently, it is not feasible to send enough oxygen and fuel on spacecraft to keep supply adequate throughout the mission. For this, NASA researchers makes use of MOXIE.

MOXIE stands for Mars Oxygen In Situ Resource Utilisation Experiment. Researchers have sent a prototype aboard the Mars Perseverance rover which was blasted off in July this year. The system is designed to convert carbon dioxide on the planet into oxygen. MOXIE basically behaves like a tree by taking in carbon dioxide and pushing out oxygen with the help of an electrochemical process to split two oxygen atoms from carbon dioxide. 

However, researchers have now developed a novel experimental technology that could help MOXIE perform better, and this uses the salty water in lakes beneath the Martian surface. 

mars fuel water
Washington University

The system is the brainchild of Vijay Ramani, a professor at Washington University’s department of energy, environmental and chemical engineering. It uses the method of electrolysis to split water molecules to form hydrogen and oxygen with the help of electricity that can be generated using solar energy.

The team had developed materials called lead ruthenate pyrochlore electrocatalysts that help in electrolyse seawater a while back. However, the new study however, shows that catalysts could help electrolyze perchlorate brines, generating ultra-pure hydrogen and oxygen in extremely low temperatures on Mars. 

They tested the new system in a Mars simulated environment, with temperatures below 36 degrees celsius. Ramani said in a statement to Space, “Our Martian brine electrolysis radically changes the logistical calculus of missions to Mars and beyond. This technology is equally useful on Earth where it opens up the oceans as a viable oxygen and fuel source.”

He added, “We can derive oxygen for breathing and hydrogen for fuel using materials on Mars itself, the briny water now known to be present there. Future missions don’t necessarily have to carry those components to Mars, but make them in situ with technology such as ours.”

mars fuel water

Researchers claim that this technology can generate 25 times more oxygen than MOXIE without any toxic carbon monoxide. 

Moreover, Ramani also states that such electrocatalyst can also come in handy on Earth, “If you’re in a submarine where there is limited oxygen and there is saltwater all around you, you could siphon in some salt water and split it to get fresh oxygen. In the U.S. Navy, most submarines are nuclear-powered, so there’s no shortage of electricity. For applications on land, you could also split briny water to generate hydrogen fuel.”

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