Microbes Could Help Produce Rocket Fuel for Return Trips from Mars

Here's how to put a Mars gas station.
Red Planet Fuel

Fuel is one of the obstacles in our mission to colonize Mars. Because rocket fuel is heavy, it's essential that humans on Mars have enough fuel to launch their missions and return to Earth. This presents a huge logistical problem.

Scientists believe that microbes may be the key to Mars' fuel production.

According to a Georgia Tech press release, the researchers found that a microbe called cyanobacteria and a strain E. coli bacteria could be combined to make rocket fuel. The photobioreactor, which would be constructed on Mars' surface, could allow the microbe to produce sugars, which the E.coli would then convert into a useful propellant called 2,3butanediol (2.3-BDO).

Low Gravity Boost

Although 2,3-BDO may not be as powerful as the propellants we use for launches, the paper authors believe it can still do the job due to Mars' lower gravity.

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In the release, Pamela Peralta Yahya, coauthor and associate professor of biochemistry at Georgia Tech, stated that Mars lift-off requires a lot less energy. We began to look at ways to use the planet's lower gravity and low oxygen levels to develop solutions that are not relevant for Earth launches.

Building bioreactors

According to the release, to produce enough propellant to make the return trip to Earth would require the construction of a photobioreactor that is four times the size of a football field. The system would be powered using carbon dioxide and sunlight, which are both abundant on the Red Planet.

According to the release, this process could also reduce mission costs and produce 44 tons of clean oxygen which could be used to sustain the human body.

NASA's Innovative Advanced Concepts Award in 2020 funded the research of the team. It seems that NASA is seriously considering this idea. It will make it possible to travel to Mars and return more affordable than ever.

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READ MORE: Making Martian Rocket BioFuel [Georgia Tech]

Scientists say that biofuel could power the jet engines.

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