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Caltech's CO2 recycling could be a game-changer for exploring the universe


How do science-fantastic movies get away with the fact that their actors from the A-list do not spend all the time wearing space suits on distant planets? Simply: They are used by teraforming or oxygen generators to explain how it is possible to walk smoothly on inhospitable planets. Unfortunately, achieving this in real life is much more difficult.

But, according to researchers at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), it may not stay forever. Caltech researchers have developed a special reactor that can transform carbon dioxide into molecular oxygen. This could prove to be a potential variable player for the creation of oxygen in the universe.

"Carbon dioxide is a very stable molecule with strong chemical bonding, the main reason why it is extremely difficult to reactively remove from the Earth's atmosphere," said Konstantinos Giapis, a professor of chemical engineering at Digital Trends. "We have developed a way to use kinetic energy to bring the carbon dioxide molecule to a fracture point. This would in itself be insignificant, as there are other ways to do this with the expected results. However, we found that we can bend and bend these solid chemical bonds to merge two oxygen atoms close enough to make the carbon dioxide molecule spontaneously disintegrated by releasing molecular oxygen. This is an unexpected, truly incomprehensible response of the molecule: a real exotic reaction.

This discovery could have profound implications in many areas. Kinetic energy-driven reactions open up new ways to perform chemistry with small molecules. In astrophysics, this could explain the origin of molecular oxygen traces found in the upper atmosphere of Mars, as well as in the early Earth before the beginning of primitive life forms. But perhaps the most exciting application includes a potential space travel to Mars.

"Although we have used a large, complex and heavy reactor to study and prove the reaction, other simpler devices that will produce more oxygen than in the current study are also possible," Giapis said. "We designed and applied the patent on a lightweight Plasma scale reactor, which can operate in a low-pressure atmosphere on Mars, probably serving as an oxygenation device for astronauts strolling on its surface."

Giapis said the team aims to optimize a portable plasma device for the production of oxygen that can breathe in a simulated Martian atmosphere. They also aim to find ways to implement more efficient ionization to improve the yield of molecular oxygen.

The work that describes the work was recently published in the Nature Communications journal.

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