Science Gazette

On the Moon and Mars, predicting the efficiency of oxygen-evolving electrolysis

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Scientists from the Universities of Manchester and Glasgow have given new insight into the prospect of building a route to manufacture oxygen for people to call the Moon or Mars “home” for lengthy periods of time.

In an age when space travel is more accessible than ever before, developing a consistent supply of oxygen might aid mankind in establishing liveable colonies off-Earth. Electrolysis is a common potential approach for extracting oxygen from lunar rocks or splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen. It involves sending electricity through a chemical system to initiate a reaction. This might be beneficial for both life support systems and in-situ rocket propellant generation.

However, until today, it has not been thoroughly explored how reduced gravitational fields on the Moon (1/6th of Earth’s gravity) and Mars (1/3rd of Earth’s gravity) may effect gas-evolving electrolysis when compared to known circumstances on Earth. Because bubbles may stick to electrode surfaces and form a resistive layer, lower gravity can have a major influence on electrolysis efficiency.

A team of researchers from The University of Manchester and The University of Glasgow conducted trials to see how the potentially life-saving electrolysis approach worked under decreased gravity settings, according to new study published today in Nature Communications.

Gunter Just, the project’s lead engineer, said: “We devised and constructed a tiny centrifuge that could provide a variety of gravity levels relevant to the Moon and Mars, and we used it to eliminate the impact of Earth’s gravity during microgravity on a parabolic flight.

“In the lab, you can’t escape Earth’s gravity; but, in the virtually zero-g environment of the plane, our electrolysis cells were only impacted by centrifugal force, allowing us to fine-tune the gravity level of each experiment by varying the rotation speed. We ran four simultaneous studies on the spinning machine during each parabola of roughly 18 seconds since the centrifuge had four 25 cm arms, each of which housed an electrolysis cell outfitted with a variety of sensors.

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“In the laboratory, we conducted the same studies using a centrifuge ranging from 1 to 8 g. We had the arms swinging in this position to accommodate for the downwards gravity. The pattern recorded below 1 g was found to be similar with the trend observed above 1 g, demonstrating that high gravity platforms may be used to anticipate electrolysis behavior in lunar gravity without the requirement for expensive and sophisticated microgravity settings. Under our system, we discovered that when the identical operational settings were utilized in lunar gravity, 11 percent less oxygen was created “”Earth,” he says.

The increased power need was rather low, at roughly 1%. These precise results are only applicable to the tiny test cell, but they show that when estimating power budgets or product output for a system operating on the Moon or Mars, the lower efficiency in low gravity situations must be taken into consideration. If the influence on power or product production was regarded too great for a system to work effectively, several modifications, such as employing a specifically designed electrode surface or injecting flow or stirring, might be made to mitigate the effect of gravity.

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