Figuring out ways for astronauts to source as many basic necessities as possible on Mars — or the Moon — is essential for future interplanetary space missions.
With that in mind, engineers at Washington University in St. Louis have developed a new electrolysis device that may be able to convert salty Martian water into breathable oxygen and hydrogen for fuel.
Electrolysis has been used for some time already to split water into its constituent atoms of hydrogen and oxygen. However, it’s much more difficult to achieve this on Mars where the water contains high amounts of salt.
With that in mind, the research team developed a new electrolysis system that can work on briny water and operate in the extreme cold of the Martian atmosphere.
As part of their study, the scientists simulated the Martian atmosphere by cooling things down to -36 °C (-32.8 °F) — and the results were impressive. According to the team, the system can produce 25 times the amount of oxygen as the MOXIE system found on NASA’s Perseverance rover, which is headed to Mars right now.
Since it may take a while for the new technology to be implemented on Mars, the research team looks to first use it here on Earth.
“Having demonstrated these electrolyzers under demanding Martian conditions, we intend to also deploy them under much milder conditions on Earth to utilize brackish or saltwater feeds to produce hydrogen and oxygen, for example, through seawater electrolysis,” says Pralay Gayen, co-first author of the study.