American and European physicists have created a plasma facility that extracts oxygen from carbon dioxide molecules in the Martian atmosphere. The American Physical Institute’s press service reported this.
“We believed that high-energy electrons colliding with CO molecules2 would lead to either the decomposition or the release of heat. This energy can also help to reduce carbon dioxide. These hypotheses were experimentally confirmed by colleagues in France and the Netherlands,” said Vasco Guerra, associate professor at the University of Lisbon (Portugal).
Scientists have been seriously considering how humans can colonize Mars and other potentially habitable worlds over the past six years. This was prompted by Elon Musk. Two problems must be solved to achieve this, according to the researchers.
Guerra and his collaborators note that oxygen production will be one of the most difficult and energy-intensive tasks the first colonists to Mars will have to face. Scientists are working on systems to extract oxygen from Martian soil and air. MOXIE, a similar facility, was installed aboard Perseverance’s rover. It was successfully tested on Mars in April 2013.
MOXIE takes carbon dioxide and heats it to 800°C. Then it passes through a special ceramic material, which breaks down CO 2 into oxygen (O 2) or carbon monoxide. European physicists have created an alternative method that is significantly more efficient than the MOXIE system in terms both of compactness and oxygen production efficiency.
Scientists have created an installation based on the fact that CO2 2 are less stable when they are placed in a rarefied plasma. The electrons within the rarefied plasma have higher energy than ions or neutral molecules. This allows for the splitting of CO 2 into carbon monoxide or oxygen. However, CO molecules 2 will encounter electron beams with well-defined properties.
Guerra and his collaborators were guided by this idea and conducted a series of experiments in which they examined the interactions between oxygen, carbon monoxide, and carbon dioxide within an inhomogeneous plasma. These experiments allowed scientists to select operating parameters in which oxygen was almost not combined with carbon monoxide.
The researchers point out that plasma can be used to produce oxygen. However, it doesn’t require Mars air to be heated to temperatures above 30-40 degrees Celsius. The physicists concluded that this will reduce the costs of energy and resources needed to produce oxygen on Mars in the future.