How Researchers Found Soil Catalyst to Make Farming on Mars a Reality?

Perchlorate is one of the most serious chemical compounds that are highly abundant in Martian soil. Therefore, developing a new catalyst can assist in removing this compound that contaminates the Earth’s surface and affects farming activities.
Human beings have continued to dream of touring Mars for more than a century. However, farming on Mars has inhospitable conditions that present several challenges to astronauts. For instance, explorers of Martian who hope to live on other planets will be forced to confront the perchlorate chemical compounds highly concentrated on the planet’s surface. Already researchers have established that perchlorate is a harmful compound on Earth that contributes to precarious lung and thyroid issues. Such public health has inspired the efforts of people to remove it from food, drinking water, and other sources that entail complex multi-step technologies which might need extreme weather conditions.

Scientists have currently managed to develop a bioinspired catalyst that simplified the removal process of perchlorate and destroys approximately 99 percent of the contaminant when exposed to ambient pressures and temperatures. A recent study posted in the American Chemical Society Journal indicated that the results offer a robust, efficient, and water-compatible catalyst used to degrade and use (perchlorate) for space exploration and water purification.

The new research ads on past experiments used tiny organisms and anaerobic microbes that live in environments with poor oxygen levels. Most of such organisms can survive by generating oxygen atoms within perchlorate and eventually disintegrates the component. Scientists can cultivate microbes in industrial reactors. However, it could take an extended period to create a stable working process. Such a case explains why Jinyong Liu, an assistant professor at Rosemary Bourns College of Engineering, claimed that they had stabilized the process of producing microbes such that they could survive even under problematic conditions. On the contrary, scientists can use the catalyst to disintegrate perchlorate at a lower concentration than one milligram per liter, even up o 10 grams per liter.

Therefore, the catalyst can be used in different contexts, including treating water and detoxifying Martian soil.
Liu and his colleague established a system considering a chemical compound named molybdenum to attain the desired result. Molybdenum is a metal microbe that microbes used when harvesting perchlorate. The scientists managed to disintegrate perchlorate in water at room temperature using hydrogen gas, palladium catalysts on carbon, bipyridine binding molecule, and a common fertilizer with molybdenum. In another study published in ACS Catalysis, Lui and his Co-author Changxu Ren, a doctoral student at UC Riverside, demonstrated that rhenium metal could enhance the self-sustainability and stability of the catalyst. The two studies offered prototype technologies that could streamline the perchlorate removal process on Earth and farming on Mars.

Although perchlorate occurs naturally on Earth, it can be produced commercially as an oxidizer in flares, pyrotechnics, rocket propellants, and other explosives resulting in industrial pollution. Currently, Liu’s team is engaged in preliminary discussion with specialists in the water industry regarding how they can evaluate their system to control water contamination by perchlorate. Further, Lius said they had planned to convert the systems they have into pilot-scale demonstrations since they could solve some problems on the Earth, including sites contaminated by perchlorate.

The scientists intend to consult with space exploration experts regarding their system’s potential to assist future explorers in surviving the unhospitable planet of farming on Mars. Disintegrating perchlorate components on Mars could eliminate the contaminate from soil and offer useful ingredients to support life, agriculture and used as rocket fuel. Not only that, Liu noted that they are working on establishing advanced catalyst formulations. Although they follow a similar design strategy, they have undertaken more modifications to the structure for it to survive under more harsh environments. Liu concluded by claiming that scientists can continue to create the technology, although it could take several decades to land human beings on Mars safely.

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