December 1, 2023

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This robotic chemist can produce oxygen using Martian meteorites

This robotic chemist can produce oxygen using Martian meteorites

This means we could build a real oxygen factory on Mars, which would produce enough oxygen locally to keep future Martians alive.

Humanity has long dreamed of life on Mars. But the lack of essential substances such as oxygen makes long-term survival on the planet a major challenge. Instead of transporting countless bottles of oxygen to the Red Planet, it would of course be more convenient to produce oxygen on site using materials already there. For a long time that was easier said than done. But now it seems that a newly developed chemical robot can do just that trick.

The importance of oxygen
If we want to actually inhabit the Red Planet, oxygen is necessary. Not only is it essential for us to breathe, it can also be used as rocket fuel. If we can produce oxygen on site, this is of course highly desirable. Transport from the ground comes at a high price. “Transporting materials from Earth is very expensive and impractical,” says researcher Jun Jiang. “By using local Martian resources, we can eliminate the expensive reliance on supplies coming from Earth. This allows us to stay on Mars longer and even build a permanent base there. This increases the chances of people exploring Mars.” Jiang would therefore like to see future Mars colonists “living off Earth” – or using local resources – rather than being transported from Earth.

Oxygen on Mars
But in the case of oxygen, it’s not that simple. The atmosphere of Mars consists mostly of carbon dioxide, with only a small amount of oxygen (less than 0.2 percent). Compared to Earth, the amount of oxygen on Mars is very small. Fortunately, there are other ways to get oxygen. Because recent studies have proven the presence of water on the red planet. Water consists of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom.

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He swears
Scientists are currently studying the option of splitting water to produce oxygen. They want to do this by “electrochemical water oxidation,” powered by solar energy and using a catalyst (see box). In this way oxygen can be produced on a large scale. The challenge is to find a way to manufacture these catalysts on site using materials found on Mars, thus reducing transportation costs from Earth.

A catalyst is a substance that can increase the speed of a chemical reaction without being consumed in the process. It speeds up or facilitates the reaction, but does not undergo permanent changes.

The researchers have now succeeded. They have developed an AI-based robot that can extract catalysts from Martian materials – all without human intervention.

Martian meteorites
The researchers first selected five different types of meteorites that come from Mars or have been confirmed to have been on the red planet. The robot then carefully analyzed these Martian meteorites. He searched for chemical compounds that could be converted into catalysts. The robot then tested how well these catalysts could produce oxygen. The robot did this over and over again until the best stimulus was found. This is much faster than what humans can do. “The most exciting thing is that the robot can find the best formula out of three million possible combinations of five types of Martian meteorites in just six weeks,” says Jiang. “This is something that would take a human being 2,000 years to achieve.”

This means that the intelligent robot is able to produce oxygen using sources that already exist on Mars. It can find materials in Martian meteorites that could eventually be used to produce oxygen. The best catalyst discovered by a robotic chemist works well even under simulated Martian conditions. “When we tested the compound further, we found that it remained stable even at icy Martian temperatures, which can reach -37 degrees Celsius,” says Jiang.

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Oxygen plant
Jiang says that using the robot, it will be possible to build a real oxygen factory on Mars. “With just fifteen hours of solar energy, we can produce enough oxygen to enable humans to survive. This innovative technology brings us closer to achieving our dream of living on Mars.”

despite of Impressive results The robot that has been built is not yet the one that will actually work on Mars. The researchers plan to continue improving and improving the robot. “To make the robot more powerful in the future, we plan to equip it with more sensors and spectroscopic eyes, allowing it to better investigate and predict the microscopic evolution of chemicals,” Jiang said.

Big step
Although there is still work to be done, the study represents a major leap forward, bringing the long-awaited colonization of the Red Planet one step closer. “We firmly believe that the technological advances we have achieved represent a major advance in our ability to tap extraterrestrial resources,” Jiang said. “This applies not only to Mars, but also to the Moon, asteroids and other places that could be explored and colonized in the future. Our research not only provides solutions for producing oxygen in extraterrestrial conditions, but also demonstrates the enormous potential that comes from integrating artificial intelligence with autonomous robots.” This has wide-ranging implications for the continuation and expansion of human civilization throughout the universe.

Jiang is very happy that he can contribute to this. “When I was a boy, I dreamed of exploring the stars,” he says. “So when we finally saw that the robot-created catalysts were actually capable of producing oxygen by splitting water molecules, it was as if my dream had come true. I even began to imagine that I would live on Mars myself in the future.”

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