Surviving a trip to Mars will be a tricky proposition. Based on the distance and resources needed for any journey, it will be necessary for astronauts to produce some of their own supplies, like fuel and water, after they arrive on the surface of our closest planetary neighbor.
The good news is that researchers appear to have taken a giant step toward that milestone.
In a recently published paper, a team of scientists say they have developed a device that turns water into fuel and oxygen.
The lead scientist says they didn’t even have Mars in mind when work started on a device to transform brine water into fuel and oxygen. However, after NASA’s Phoenix Mars Lander mission in 2008 led to the discovery of water ice on the surface — as well as evidence of magnesium perchlorate in the soil, an oxidizing agent that dissolves in water, and high concentrations of salt — the focus turned to making a device that would work on the Red Planet.
Here’s how it would work: The brine water solution enters the device, which has two sides. The first side splits the water to form a hydroxyl ion, and then the second side splits it again to produce the oxygen.
This type of technology already exists on Earth, also known as an electrolyzer, or an electrochemical device that converts water into hydrogen and oxygen. To make this technology fit for Mars, the researchers want to create a modular device that can be easily scaled down and transported. There, it would continuously consume brine solution to produce hydrogen and oxygen gas. The device also needs to be able to operate in the freezing temperatures of Mars, which can dip to -81 degrees Fahrenheit.
Another nuance is that impurities in Martian water help prevent the water from freezing solid and improve the device performance by lowering electrical resistance. As a result, there’s no need to heat or purify the water source.
Typically, water electrolyzers use highly purified, deionized water.
The researchers hope to collaborate with space agencies like NASA that plan to launch future missions to Mars. NASA’s current mandate is to land humans on Mars by 2033.