(Nanowerk News) In a study published in Nature Communications (“Assessment of the technological feasibility of photoelectrochemical devices for the production of oxygen and fuel on the Moon and Mars”), scientists assess a new technique that can convert renewable green energy from outside the Earth’s atmosphere. They are using photosynthesis – the chemical process plants go through every day to create energy – to help make the space industry more sustainable.
Research led by the University of Warwick evaluated the use of special devices known as semiconductors to absorb sunlight on the Moon and Mars. It is hoped that the device will promote Martian life support systems.
These “artificial photosynthetic devices” undergo the same process that keeps plants alive on Earth – they convert water into oxygen using only sunlight while recycling carbon dioxide. This integrated system has the advantage of using direct solar power and can save long-term space travel costs compared to traditional systems currently used on the International Space Station – making space travel more efficient.
There is a need for an efficient and reliable source of energy in outer space to make exploration of our solar system possible. It is envisioned that the technology could be installed on the Moon and Mars to harvest green energy to help propel rockets and equip life support systems for the production of oxygen and other chemicals and the recycling of carbon dioxide. The insights gained in this study with respect to improving the efficiency of the devices also feed into their optimization for Earth applications and also provide insight into the performance of traditional solar cells in space.
Assistant Professor Katharina Brinkert, Department of Chemistry, said: “Human space exploration faces the same challenges as the green energy transition on Earth: both require sustainable sources of energy. With the abundant availability of sunlight in space, we have shown how this source can be used to harvest energy – much like plants on Earth – for life support systems for long-term space travel. This technology can provide sufficient oxygen production and carbon dioxide recycling on the Moon and Mars.”
Associate Professor Sophia Haussener, at Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), Switzerland, added: “In this study, we finally quantify the potential of such a device for extra-terrestrial use and provide initial design guidance for its potential implementation.”