Researchers have found that direct photochemical reactions can provide people with the oxygen and hydrogen necessary for long-term living on Mars or Moon. This is stated in a study published in the journal Nature Communications, writes The Register.
In it, University of Warwick assistant professor and researcher Katharina Brinkert assessed the viability of photoelectrochemical (PEC) devices that could help increase people’s chances of long-term survival.
These devices use semiconductor materials to convert solar energy into chemical energy to produce hydrogen and oxygen without the need for intermediate electricity generation. The technology is being closely researched because it can help solve the problem of sustainable energy. But its potential in space has yet to be explored.
“This work seeks to establish the theoretical foundations for the application of PEC devices in habitats on the Moon and Mars and delivers the first foray into exploring the feasibility of utilising them for oxygen production and carbon dioxide recycling,” Brinkert said in the paper.
Specialists concluded that this is possible but with some caveats.
“Although high long-term efficiencies and power densities of PEC devices are still integral parts of ongoing terrestrial research efforts, we have shown that the application of these devices could go beyond Earth and potentially contribute to the realisation of human space exploration,” the paper said.
Experts also investigated the question of whether it is possible to build these devices in an extraterrestrial settlement using the resources available on-site. It is about the practice of In-Situ Resource Utilization, (ISRU).
“The device construction can draw from a variety of semiconductors and electrocatalyst materials that are available on the Moon and Mars and the required materials can eventually be produced via ISRU. Moreover, we have previously demonstrated that PEC devices can work efficiently in microgravity and our theoretical analysis suggests that it can suitably be scaled up,” the study said.
The International Space Station uses photovoltaic electrolyzers to extract oxygen from water. But the two-step process of converting sunlight into electricity and then using the electricity to electrolyze water is expensive.
We will remind that the companies Impulse Space and Relativity Space announced plans to launch the first commercial mission to Mars in 2026.