Will Bio Fuels Power Martian Colonies Instead Of Solar?

Article written: 2 Feb , 2010
Updated: 26 Apr , 2016
by

If I told you that your great, great, great grandkids would be building houses on that crimson world known as Mars, what would be the first thought to enter your head?

Rovers? Check! A comfy Martian house? Check! Power cutting rock tools? (for us guys) Double check! A bio fuel gas tank? Che–huh?!

You’re probably wondering “what power on Earth would motivate you to bring bio fuels to Mars?” The answer: a slightly altered cyanobacterium that may help us power future Martian rovers, homes–and yes–power tools with good ol’ biofuel.

The problem with settling Mars is this: despite its dazzling desert environment (if you consider frozen dry tundra’s dazzling), Mars is not the most ideal location when it comes to the energy department.

The red planet receives approximately half of the sunlight Earth does, which may dim a green geeks hope of a solar powered outpost offworld.

Worse, even if solar panels received 100% of the energy from the Sun, those big, bad global dust storms could make solar panels useless for weeks or months at a time.

The only thing “big red” has to offer future settlers is rust, dust and lots of CO2–the latter which can be converted into fuel thanks to our new best (microscopic) friend cyanobacterium.

Scientists have been studying this little creature and have found that with a “few” alterations, cyanobacterium can take CO2 (the gas that can easily kill you) and turn it into a biofuel called isobutanol.

Converted, isobutanol could help colonists power rovers, Martian settlements–and yes, even power tools (as cutting rocks with lasers is going to require lots of energy folks!) without the need to depend upon the Sun or an underground¬†miniature¬†nuke (which might be too expensive for small outposts).

Since bio fuels can’t openly burn in the carbon atmosphere, future rovers, houses and power tools will need to be altered to also carry oxygen as well (which we could extract from the ever abundant Martian ice).

By having an inexpensive and (hopefully) cheap fuel, establishing homes and traveling the Martian globe could become a reality without the heavy (and sometimes “helpful”) hand from governments and mega-corporations.

Image Credit: Paul Hudson via NASA

Sources: Alternative Energy News, Physorg.com

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14 Responses

  1. Manu says

    “CO2 the gas that can easily kill you”: no, that’s CO.

    “oxygen … which we could extract from the ever abundant Martian ice”: with an energy cost equivalent (in order of mag) to that gained by burning fuel. Houston, we got a problem.

  2. gopher65 says

    CO2 can kill you too:P. It isn’t poisonous to humans, but if it hits (IIRC) an atmospheric concentration of 15%, you suffocate, even if oxygen levels are high. Hence the problems that they have on the various space stations. And the whole “square peg in a round hole” issue that happened during the Apollo 13 mission.

  3. Lawrence B. Crowell says

    I think these schemes have been shoved further into the indefinate future.

    LC

  4. Athan says

    Well I learned something new about CO2 today.

    But on the other hand I could have done without the misogynistic “Power cutting rock tools? (for us guys) Double check!”.

  5. lukegarratt says

    “Since bio fuels can’t openly burn in the carbon atmosphere, future rovers, houses and power tools will need to be altered to also carry oxygen as well (which we could extract from the ever abundant Martian ice).”

    Hmm, lots of CO2, need oxygen. Surely plants are the logical option?

  6. Torbjorn Larsson OM says

    Well, hemoglobin transports O2 in but CO2 out, so it’s bound to arise difficulties if CO2 concentration is too high. (IIRC, CO toxicity is because it binds permanently. Apparently evolution never faced appreciable CO levels after hemoglobin came in use.)

    As for the fuel production, I honestly don’t see the problem.

    You can use the liberated oxygen for fuel burning. The energy is provided by photosynthesis and the fuel/oxidizer mix is a typical energy distribution system.

    The oxygen for breathing must come from being liberated when CO2 is used to provide organics to feed on. That carbon/oxygen cycle is a separate cycle. And here too there is no unbalance, as we start from the perfect CO2 carbon-oxygen ratio.

    You don’t even need either of those to be efficiently separated, as long as you don’t loose carbon or oxygen. Proof of principle: Earth.

  7. Torbjorn Larsson OM says

    After cogitating, it seems to me hydrogen is the problem. It is a pesky gas that goes right through any containers – or more exactly, there aren’t any perfect containers for it.

    Luckily there is water on Mars.

  8. Torbjorn Larsson OM says

    “the perfect CO2 carbon-oxygen ratio”, “hydrogen” – ah, yes, there’s the ‘oxygen leak’ in the fuel cycle.

    But water will ‘plug’ that at the same time it provides the needed hydrogen.

  9. Manu says

    @ Torbjorn: ouch, I should’ve thought better before posting.

    Of course photosynthesis would release all the necessary oxygen. No need for ice!

  10. SkepticTim says

    I’m not sure that I’d want to be the neighbor, on mars, of someone who had “Power cutting rock tools.” Someone who was able to cut my power with a “rock tool” would be dangerous! Perhaps you meant : Rock cutting Power tools?

  11. Member
    Aqua says

    At least the exhaust won’t smell like French Fries?

  12. Pilgrim says

    Actually you probably do need ice as part of the equation for plants.

    If I recall, the oxygen component from photosynthesis comes from the splitting of H20 into O2 and 2 hydrogen atoms (which are used to charge up NADP to 2NADPH and ADP to ATP as the plant’s power sources required to reduce CO2 into sugars.

    Its been awhile, but thats my recollection of it.

  13. Astrofiend says

    # Athan Says:
    February 2nd, 2010 at 5:51 pm

    “Well I learned something new about CO2 today.

    But on the other hand I could have done without the misogynistic “Power cutting rock tools? (for us guys) Double check!”.”

    Misogyny is hatred or contempt directed at women. I hardly think that that was the case here. It was a little joke, slightly sexist perhaps. Stop being so hyper-sensitive…

  14. Mr. Man says

    Neat,
    these kinds of articles about always facsinate me.
    Keep up the innovation!
    Mr. Man

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