Plasma is the ‘fourth state’ of matter and contains free charged particles such as electrons and ions;
Substance can help generate oxygen on Mars
Technology can still help fight climate change here on Earth
A new breakthrough in plasma technology could help humans live on Mars, say scientists at the University of Lisbon in an article published in the Journal of Applied Physics.
The colonization of Mars is the dream of many space agencies, but the red planet is hostile to human life: it lacks oxygen. The gas is used both for our breathing and as fuel for combustion-powered machinery and equipment essential for human life.
Research by scientists at the University of Lisbon can help address this issue by complementing NASA’s work on the “Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment” project, which seeks to create these resources on Mars.
“First, the decomposition of carbon dioxide molecules to extract oxygen. It is a very difficult molecule to break down,” said Vasco Guerra, from the University of Lisbon, author of the new paper.
“Second, the separation of the produced oxygen from a gas mixture that also contains, for example, carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide. We are looking at these two steps holistically to solve both challenges at the same time. This is where plasmas can help.”
Plasma is a natural “fourth state” of matter. It contains free charged particles such as electrons and ions that can be aided in this process. “When bullet-like electrons collide with a carbon dioxide molecule, they can either break it down directly or transfer energy to make it vibrate,” Guerra said.
“This energy can be channeled, to a large extent, into the decomposition of carbon dioxide. Together with our colleagues in France and the Netherlands, we have experimentally demonstrated the validity of these theories. In addition, the heat generated in the plasma is also beneficial for oxygen separation.”
The same system could help separate carbon dioxide molecules to produce green fuels and recycle chemicals, the scientists suggest — helping to tackle the problem of climate change on Earth as well.