A robotic chemist working autonomously in a lab has developed a catalyst that produces oxygen from minerals found in Martian meteorites. The same procedure could one day be used to provide oxygen to astronauts on Mars.
Sending supplies by spacecraft to a future Mars colony would be prohibitively expensive, making producing materials using Mars’ natural resources an attractive option. However, this can be difficult because there are fewer elements available on Mars than on Earth.
Yi Luo Researchers at the University of Science and Technology of China in Hefei have developed a fully automated robotic chemist. This machine used high-power lasers to analyze the chemical composition of five Martian meteorites and detected large amounts of six of his elements: iron, nickel, calcium, magnesium, aluminum, and manganese.
“On Earth, these six elements are not used because there are more options,” Luo says. “These six elements are not optimal for this type of catalyst and will limit its performance, but that’s what we get on Mars.”
Luo said there are more than 3.7 million different combinations of elements on Mars, which would take more than 2,000 years to test by hand if each test took about five hours.
Rather than checking every combination, the robot used artificial intelligence to predict which combination of elements would be the best catalyst for oxygen production. They then produced and tested more than 200 catalysts using brine and carbon dioxide as feedstocks.
Robots have finally taken root The catalyst is comparable to the best catalyst available on Earth a decade ago, Luo said. This catalyst works continuously for more than six days at -37°C (-35°F), similar to temperatures on Mars. Luo and his team calculated that a 3-meter-tall, 100-square-meter room on Mars with a catalyst in the ceiling could produce oxygen levels comparable to those on Earth in about 15 hours.
“to get [the robot] Making it work is no small feat because so many parts have to work together. ” ross king at Cambridge University. In such cases, it may still be easier to design materials on Earth and send them to Mars, but autonomous robotic chemists could be essential for exploration deeper into the solar system, where communication is difficult. he says.