New Way Invented To Produce Oxygen on Mars for Future Explorers

Astronaut at Mars Base

Researchers have come up with a plasma-based way to produce and separate oxygen within the Martian environment.

Converting carbon dioxide into oxygen and producing fuels, fertilizers on the red planet using a plasma-based method.

A plasma-based way to produce and separate oxygen within the Martian environment has been devised by an international team of researchers. It’s a complementary approach to NASA’s Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment (MOXIE), and it may deliver high rates of molecule production per kilogram of instrumentation sent to space.

Such a system could play an essential role in the development of life-support systems on Mars. It could also produce the feedstock and base chemicals necessary for processing fuels, building materials, and fertilizers.

In the Journal of Applied Physics, from AIP Publishing, the researchers presented a method for harnessing and processing local resources to generate products on Mars. Because the atmosphere is primarily formed by carbon dioxide that can be split to produce oxygen, and its pressure is favorable for plasma ignition, natural conditions on the red planet are nearly ideal for in situ resource utilization by plasmas. The team included scientists from the University of Lisbon, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Sorbonne University, Eindhoven University of Technology, and the Dutch Institute for Fundamental Energy Research.

There are two big hurdles that stand in the way of producing oxygen on Mars.

Carbon dioxide plasma created at the Laboratoire de Physique des Plasmas, Ecole Polytechnique in France and used in the research on harnessing and processing local resources to generate products on Mars. Credit: Olivier Guaitella

“First, the decomposition of carbon dioxide molecules to extract oxygen. It’s a very difficult molecule to break,” said author Vasco Guerra, of the University of Lisbon. “Second, the separation of the produced oxygen from a gas mixture that also contains, for example, carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide. We’re looking at these two steps in a holistic way to solve both challenges at the same time. This is where plasmas can help.”

Plasma, the fourth natural state of matter, contains free charged particles, such as electrons and ions. Electrons are light and easily accelerated up to very high energies with electric fields.

“When bulletlike electrons collide with a carbon dioxide molecule, they can directly decompose it or transfer energy to make it vibrate,” Guerra said. “This energy can be channeled, to a large extent, into carbon dioxide decomposition. Together with our colleagues in France and the Netherlands, we experimentally demonstrated the validity of these theories. Moreover, the heat generated in the plasma is also beneficial for the separation of oxygen.”

Oxygen is key to creating a breathable environment, It is also the starting point to produce fuels and fertilizers for future Martian agriculture. Local production of fuels will be required for future missions. All are crucial for future human settlement on Mars.

By dissociating carbon dioxide molecules to produce green fuels and recycle chemicals, the plasma technology may also be helpful in addressing climate change on Earth.

Reference: “Plasmas for in situ resource utilization on Mars: Fuels, life support, and agriculture” by V. Guerra, T. Silva, N. Pinhão, O. Guaitella, C. Guerra-Garcia, F. J. J. Peeters, M. N. Tsampas and M. C. M. van de Sanden, 16 August 2022, Journal of Applied Physics.
DOI: 10.1063/5.0098011


View Comments

  • I think long-term Moon & Mars bases would need a tech to recycle air (as tech for recycling water already used by NASA)!
    Imagine a device that constantly filters CO2 from air & gives back O2 (& accumulates Carbon powder to be just dumped/discarded) & by using only electricity!

  • I think it's a buncha B.S.! Clean up this damn planet with all the trillions of $$$. Trying to Terraform a ball of ice twice as far from the sun is, imo, waste of assets. That money can, for the moment, be used everywhere else.

    Sincerly, Oneoftheworld

  • Oxygen by itself may not be safe to breathe in the long term. Terrestrial air is composed of many gases , with nitrogen being the largest partial pressure. Nitrogen is necessary for normal health.

    • Yes we should because the lessons learned by teraforming mars about how planetary eco-systems work will provide the answer to how to save the earths bio-sphere bear in mind that mars is humanities second and last chance to get it right.

  • If you can generate Oxygen in Mars, why you cannot do the same in my beloved Earth. Why are you worried about cutting trees.etc.

  • This article draws a direct line between learning to survive on Mars and benefitting us on earth. Space advancements are bipartisan because pursuing space goals clearly benefits humans on Earth. The return on investment is huge.

  • It's good to start planting forests on mars, which can transform the CO2 to Oxygen by photosynthesis. Start planting trees and wait. By the time we are ready for mass migration the planet will be ready and trraformed.

  • Terroraforming mars is great and all but that should be more of a refuling station. Once the milkkyway and a Andromeda collide being on Mars wont help However it keep our species alive when when the earth turns 2500years old.The next time the 75h or 8th ice age takes over the earth again .ultimately we need to move farther away like Proxima b

American Institute of Physics

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