A team of researchers has developed a process that is expected to produce methane-based rocket fuel on Mars . An invention that could facilitate the colonization of the red planet.
The past decade has seen an increase in interest in the trip to Mars. While the Perseverance rover's landing on the planet slated for mid-February will mark an important step towards achieving our goal of colonizing this distant world, on Earth scientists are working hard in hopes of making the famous voyage possible. . Houlin Xin, assistant professor in physics and astronomy, is one of these researchers who are mobilizing to advance the program. With the help of his team, he succeeded in creating a process that converts CO2 into methane.
According to Xin, their invention could facilitate the return of the spacecraft to Earth. Indeed, although the outward journey should not be a problem, the return journey is likely to be much more complicated given the lack of fuel ready to be used on Mars.
A catalyst that uses zinc
The invention of Houlin Xin and his colleagues consists of a compact and lightweight device that theoretically creates methane from ice water discovered on the red planet. It is more precisely a zinc catalyst. “Zinc is basically a great catalyst,” Xin explained . Plus, it's lightweight, with weight being a crucial part of space travel.
Elon Musk's team had previously theorized a more or less similar technique for creating methane-based fuel. Remember that SpaceX's Raptor engines are supposed to run on methane. This process known as the Sabatier reaction is also used on the ISS to produce breathable oxygen from water. However, Xin's invention looks even more promising.
A method that bypasses the water-hydrogen process
This is because their process uses anatomically dispersed zinc to act as a synthetic enzyme. This catalyzes the carbon dioxide and then initiates the process. Unlike the Sabatier process which takes place in two stages, this new technique is faster and will require less space.
“The process we have developed bypasses the water-hydrogen process and instead efficiently converts CO2 into methane with high selectivity , ” Xin added.