In a study published in Newswise – Natural communication, scientists are evaluating a new technique that could harness renewable, green energy from outside Earth’s atmosphere. They take advantage of photosynthesis — chemical process plants generate energy every day — to help the aerospace industry become more sustainable.
Research led by the University of Warwick is evaluating the use of a special device called a semiconductor to absorb sunlight on the Moon and Mars. These devices are believed to inspire Martian life support systems.
These „artificial photosynthesis devices” undergo the same processes that keep plants alive on Earth—they convert water into oxygen using only sunlight while recycling carbon dioxide. These integrated systems have the advantage of harnessing solar energy directly and can save weight on long-duration space missions compared to traditional systems currently in use on the International Space Station – making space travel more efficient.
Exploring our solar system requires efficient and reliable energy sources in space. It is believed that technology could be installed on the Moon and Mars to harvest green energy to help power rockets, recycle oxygen and other chemicals and carbon dioxide and replenish life support systems. Insights gained from this study regarding improving device performance feed back into their optimization for Earth applications and also provide insights into the performance of traditional solar cells in space.
Katharina Brinkert, assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry, said: „Human space exploration faces the same challenges as the green energy transition on Earth: both require sustainable sources of energy. Because sunlight is abundant in space, life support systems for long-duration spaceflight – just like plants on Earth – can harvest this energy. We have shown how the source could use this technology to provide sufficient oxygen production and carbon dioxide recycling on the Moon and Mars.
Associate Professor Sophia Hausner at the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland added: „In this study, we finally quantify the potential of such devices for extraterrestrial use and provide preliminary design guidelines for their potential operation.”
The research project was funded by the European Space Agency through the Open Space Discovery Platform – https://ideas.esa.int.
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