MAR 07, 2015 07:45 PM PST

A Greenhouse Gas On Earth Could Be An Important Energy Source On Mars

WRITTEN BY: Andrew J. Dunlop
Here on earth, carbon dioxide is a pollutant and a greenhouse gas. But thanks to a new engine technology, for colonists on Mars, CO2 could be an easily accessible, native energy source.

The new engine being developed by researchers at Northumbria University in England uses disks of dry ice (solid CO2) and something called the Leidenfrost effect. What is the Leidenfrost Effect? If you've ever flicked drops of water on a skillet to see if it's ready for frying and noticed that the droplets seem to defy gravity as they skitter across the hot surface, you've seen the Leidenfrost effect. When the water droplets come into close proximity with a surface that is much hotter than the water's boiling point, a bubble of water vapor forms between the skillet and the droplets, causing them to levitate.
Artist's Conception of The beginnings of a Martian Colony
Dr. Gary Wells, co-author of a paper on the Northumbrian team's new motor, explains how their device takes advantage of this same effect using disks of dry ice: "... the high-pressure vapour layer creates freely rotating rotors whose energy is converted into power without the need of a bearing, thus conferring the new engine with low-friction properties." The lower a device's friction, negligible in the case of a levitating disk of dry ice, the higher its efficiency.

Why might this be important for Martian colonists? Though dry ice does not occur naturally here on Earth, large regions of Mars are much colder, well below carbon dioxide's freezing point. With Mars' mostly carbon dioxide atmosphere, dry ice there is both naturally occurring, (meaning it would not have to be shipped to Mars from Earth), and in huge supply.

Dr. Rodrigo Ledesma-Aguilar, another co-author of the paper on the Northumbrian team's research, explains: "Carbon dioxide plays a similar role on Mars as water does on Earth. It is a widely available resource which undergoes cyclic phase changes under the natural Martian temperature variations." Mars' north pole, which has a diameter of about 620 miles, seasonally develops a layer of dry ice that is about three feet thick. On Mars' south pole, which is about 220 miles across, there is a permanent layer of dry ice layer that is over 26 feet thick. With a system of Leidenfrost-based generators, these polar dry-ice deposits could become the Martian equivalent of Earth's Middle-east oil fields.

"Perhaps future power stations on Mars will exploit such a resource to harvest energy as dry blocks evaporate," Dr. Ledesma-Aguilaror postulates, "to channel the chemical energy extracted from other carbon-based sources, such as methane gas."

"One thing is certain," Ledesma-Aguilaror concludes, "our future on other planets depends on our ability to adapt our knowledge to the constraints imposed by strange worlds, and to devise creative ways to exploit natural resources that do not naturally occur here on Earth."

Source: http://phys.org/news/2015-03-breakthrough-energy-harvesting-power-life.html
About the Author
  • Andrew J. Dunlop lives and writes in a little town near Boston. He's interested in space, the Earth, and the way that humans and other species live on it.
You May Also Like
JAN 17, 2020
Space & Astronomy
JAN 17, 2020
The Moon is Shrinking, and Here's Why
When the Moon was conceived during the formation of the solar system, it was comprised of incredibly hot material. Years’ worth of space rock impacts...
JAN 17, 2020
Space & Astronomy
JAN 17, 2020
A More Practical Theory Regarding Tabby's Star
A distant star system called KIC 8462852, also commonly known as ‘Tabby’s Star,’ has a particularly interesting reputation for dimming sp...
JAN 17, 2020
Space & Astronomy
JAN 17, 2020
Why the Search for Other Planets is So Captivating
Astronomers are continuously searching for other planets, whether those reside right here in the solar system with us, or far away in another stellar syste...
JAN 17, 2020
Space & Astronomy
JAN 17, 2020
NASA Considers Building Space Telescopes in Space to Reduce Cost and Risk
Space telescopes are particularly important pieces of equipment, especially for astrophysicists, planetary scientists, and other space professionals that s...
JAN 17, 2020
Space & Astronomy
JAN 17, 2020
Do Nebulae Actually Look This Impressive?
Astronomers often turn to NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope when they fancy observing any of the plethora of distant nebulae in outer space. Nebulae are...
JAN 17, 2020
Space & Astronomy
JAN 17, 2020
Boeing's Starliner Capsule 'Ready' for First Test Flight
NASA is enthusiastic about bringing crewed space launches back to American soil very soon, and with the help of its Commercial Crew program, at least two s...
Loading Comments...