Updated: 4 days ago
According to Senior author Vijay Ramani, Mars is a long way from Earth and it is better to use resources from Mars due to the limitations of the stuff we can carry from Earth to Mars trip.
Since brines containing water and perchlorates may remain liquid even at the chilly temperatures found on the Martian surface, Ramani and his colleagues wanted to see if they could use a
a technique is known as electrolysis to split water molecules to form hydrogen and oxygen using electricity.
Ramani and his colleagues developed materials known as lead ruthenate pyrochlore electrocatalysts that could help them electrolyze seawater. In the new study, their experiments revealed such catalysts could help electrolyze perchlorate brines, generating ultra-pure hydrogen and oxygen at the kind of ultra-low temperatures found on the Martian surface.
Such electrocatalysts may find use on Earth as well. 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, we could also split briny water to generate hydrogen fuel.
Researchers say that they can derive oxygen for breathing and hydrogen for fuel using materials on Mars itself, the briny water now known to be present. No need to carry these things in the future but make them in situ with technology such as ours. Some electricity is needed to drive these chemical reactions. On Mars, such electricity will likely come from solar power cells.
The new study could generate 25 times as much oxygen or more and not generate any toxic carbon monoxide to boot. NASA Mars Perseverance rover used Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment (MOXIE) used the same technology 25 times lower at the same amount of energy compared to this.
According to the researchers, these technologies will help future Mars explorers. The scientists noted this could help NASA fulfill its current mandate to land humans on Mars by the mid-2030s.
The scientists detailed their findings online Nov. 30 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.