The European Space Agency (ESA) and National Institute of Chemical Physics and Biophysics (NICPB) in Estonia have signed a partnership agreement for investigating the electrochemical splitting of CO2 for carbon and oxygen production in Mars conditions. The agreement comes at an exciting time where the race for human exploration of Mars has been so far split between the world leading superpowers. Estonia, with its 1.3 million population is also getting into the Mars game now.
Estonian scientists led by the Energy Technologies Laboratory of the NICPB have proposed a study for developing a reactor technology where CO2 is electrochemically split into solid carbon and gaseous oxygen, which are then separated and stored. The technology used for this process is molten salt carbon capture and electrochemical transformation (MSCC-ET) where the CO2 molecule is broken up via a carbonate salt electrolyte. On Mars, it could be a solution to two problems: energy storage and oxygen production. Even more since the conditions are perfect as the atmosphere of Mars consists over 95% of carbon dioxide with only about 0.1% oxygen.
ESA and NICPB have agreed to put their respective competence and facilities at each other’s disposal for the purpose of testing the viability of MSCC-ET for usage on Mars and developing a reactor that could work as both an energy storage and oxygen generation device. „It will provide a great opportunity for Estonian scientists to contribute to European space research and interact with space industry experts to take the next step in inhabitating the Red Planet“, said the Head of Estonian Space Office Madis Võõras.
In order to actively support the research ESA has agreed to co-fund a Post-Doc Study of Dr Sander Ratso, who will be carrying out his research over the course of 24 months in the National Institute of Chemical Physics and Biophysics in Tallinn, and the European Space Research and Technology Centre in Noordwijk, the Netherlands. „It is clear that oxygen generation and energy storage are completely new use cases for this proposed method and there are many unknowns that we are going to face“, mentioned Ratso. „However, we might be on the verge of a great scientific discovery for the humankind,“ he continued.
Dr Ratso has defended his PhD thesis on carbon catalysts for fuel cell cathodes. He has received multiple honours and scholarships for his outstanding work in studying electrochemical systems. Ratso is also the co-founder of an Estonian based startup UPCatalyst, which produces sustainable carbon nanomaterials from CO2and waste biomass for a vast range of applications ranging from biomedicine to battery technologies.