September 30, 2023


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New technology converts sunlight into oxygen – T3N – Digital Pioneers

New technology converts sunlight into oxygen – T3N – Digital Pioneers

Technology can advance manned Mars exploration. (Photo: Shutterstock/Dotted Yeti)

Researchers have found a way to efficiently convert solar energy into hydrogen and oxygen. This would make long-term Mars missions or even colonization of the planet possible.

It is known that oxygen is scarce in space. Carrying enough oxygen from Earth for long-term living on Mars is not an option. Scientists have now developed a method that allows oxygen to be produced using sunlight.

Search results are displayed in Stady Published in Nature Communications. Here, the researchers propose photoelectrochemical (PEC) devices for oxygen production.

Currently, devices based on photovoltaics are used by space missions to produce oxygen, such as the International Space Station (ISS). The main drawback of these devices is that they are not very efficient.

Direct conversion through a photoelectrochemical process

Photovoltaic cells first convert the sun’s energy into electrical energy, followed by the electrolysis of water. As a result, 1.5 kilowatts of the total 4.6 kilowatts of energy used by the Environmental Control and Life Support System on the International Space Station is used for the oxygen generator, as log He writes.

With this in mind, the researchers concluded that this approach is a dead end, as it is wildly ineffective for extended missions to Mars or even colonization.

The advantage of photoelectrochemical processes is that they use the sun’s energy directly to produce hydrogen and oxygen, without having to generate electricity first. This means that these devices work more efficiently.

Actually dedicated to the Earth

The technology for producing hydrogen and carbon-based fuels from carbon dioxide was originally developed as part of the energy transition. However, the researchers realized that the technology could also be useful for trips to the Moon and Mars, they wrote in the study.

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“Although the high long-term efficiencies and energy densities of PEC devices remain an integral part of ongoing terrestrial research efforts, we have shown that the application of these devices can extend beyond Earth and potentially contribute to the realization of manned space exploration,” the study reads.