Oxygen produced with magnetism in space


Technological Innovation Website Editor – 08/16/2022


Magnetic targeting of bubbles, pulled by the right hand.
[Imagem: lvaro Romero-Calvo et al. – 10.1038/s41526-022-00212-9]

Oxygen separation with magnetism

Researchers are proposing a simpler, cheaper way that relies on substantially smaller equipment to produce oxygen for astronauts in space.

On the International Space Station, for example, oxygen is generated using an electrolytic cell, which splits water into hydrogen and oxygen. Here on Earth, the two gases simply rise and can be captured on the surface of the water, but in space, without being able to rely on gravity, it is necessary to use large centrifuges, which consume a lot of electricity and require constant maintenance.

Recently, a researcher at NASA’s Ames Research Center concluded that adapting the same architecture on a trip to Mars would have such significant mass and reliability costs that it would make no sense to use this technology, and it is necessary to think about alternatives.

And the best alternative may be magnetism – more specifically, magnetic phase separation.

In other words, oxygen and hydrogen (gas phase) from electrolysis can be separated from water (liquid phase) by taking advantage of diamagnetic and paramagnetic forces – from a macroscopic perspective, diamagnetic and paramagnetic substances are repelled and attracted, respectively, by magnetic dipoles. .

“Previous work on low-gravity magnetohydrodynamics has explored the diamagnetic manipulation of air bubbles in water, positioning of diamagnetic materials, air-water separation, protein crystal growth, positive magnetic positioning, magnetic stirring of liquids, and combustion optimization, among others. The use of magnetic buoyancy in phase separation under microgravity conditions remains, however, largely unexplored,” wrote the team from the universities of Warwick (UK), Colorado Boulder (USA) and Free Berlin (Germany). .


The team ran the tests in purified water, an aqueous solution of MnSO4lysogeny broth (bacterial culture medium) and olive oil.
[Imagem: lvaro Romero-Calvo et al. – 10.1038/s41526-022-00212-9]

magnetic phase separation

Although diamagnetic forces are well known and understood, their use in space applications has not been adequately explored because gravity makes it difficult to demonstrate the technology on Earth.

To cut costs, lvaro Calvo and his colleagues went to the Free Fall Tower in Bremen, which has a 122-meter high free-fall tube, which simulates a gravity-free environment lasting almost 10 seconds.

The experiments demonstrated for the first time that gas bubbles from electrolysis can be attracted and repelled by a common neodymium mother in the microgravity environment – and it all worked in very different liquids of different densities.

“Non-homogeneous magnetic fields induce a weak volume force in continuous media which, due to differential magnetic properties between phases, results in a net buoyancy effect. This phenomenon is known as magnetic buoyancy and has been applied to terrestrial boiling experiments with ferrofluids, ” explained the team.

“These effects have tremendous consequences for the development of phase separation systems as well as for long-term space missions, suggesting that the efficient production of oxygen and, for example, hydrogen in water (photo)electrolyzer systems, can be achieved even in the near absence of buoyant force,” added Professor Katharina Brinkert, coordinator of the experiments.


Article: Magnetic phase separation in microgravity
Authors: lvaro Romero-Calvo, mer Akay, Hanspeter Schaub, Katharina Brinkert
Magazine: Microgravity
Vol.: 8, Article number: 32
DOI: 10.1038/s41526-022-00212-9

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