Mars Fuel Plant

Mars is a very very fascinating red spot in the sky. For generations it has fascinated mankind. Now we are poised to go there in actual fact. for some fun I was watching some docu's about mars and came across Robert Zubrin, the mars underground, his way of getting to mars is making all of your fuel there. It's actually a really easy chemical process that you can do at home.

The fundamental piece of mission infrastructure is the mars accent vehicle. The vehicle has to come from Earth and fly to mars through interstellar space. It then has to descend through the Martian atmosphere and land softly on mars. When the crew are ready to leave they board the MAV and it launches, returning them to Martian orbit to return to earth.

In order to cut the mass down in the MAV it is possible to make the really heavy fuel for this MAV, on Mars...

Step 1: Planning

In order to make anything at a uni workshop you need a pretty watertight plan.

only one fuel plant has ever been built and it was done in the 90s by the mars direct researchers at martin Marieta, Robert Zubrin lead the team and in 6 weeks they produced the fuel plant.

Essentially what it does is it takes the co2 in the martian atmosphere. Fezes the niblets out of it (to almost -50ˆC) and then runs a current through it, in the low-pressure environment instead of freezing to dry ice it forms a liquid co2. By running a current through this fluid you split it down to a carbon atom and two oxygen atoms. by then pushing the carbon into a high-pressure high-temperature chamber with a hydrogen atmosphere you produce methane. a fuel. The bi-product is oxygen which is needed to oxidise the fuel so it burns.

For teh brave souls at home trying to make a fuel plant here is what you need.

10 feet of aluminium plumbing tubes

6 copper right angle tubes

8 solanoid valves

a standard small kiln oven (cheap)

some liquid nitrogen and a vessel for it

two air tight systern tanks

a 3 way valve


2 compressors

you only really need a drill

a welder

some drill bits

a soldering iron

and some brute force

to put it together

Step 2: Blueprint

The plant cant weigh more than 10Kg if it is to cut down the mass enough and cant be bigger than 1 foot by 5 foot by 1/2 foot. this doesn't make life easy. Just to help a little bit more, the high-pressure high temp and low-pressure low temp modules are about 3 inches from each other.

Oh and we only had £300 to make it happen....

Above is the original blueprint.

Step 3: Building

I don't know how acquainted you are with an engineering workshop but they aren't very big.

We broke it into three parts, the casing, the tubes and the chamber.

The chassis was relatively simple, just welding aluminium. take some 500 by 500 sheets of aluminium and put them out in the net of the box you are going to make. Insure that one long side has nothing in front of it, it should measure 1000x500x500

put the compressor down fist, you want to screw this in. connect it into a 3 way and solder in the first tube. this will carry the co2. connect this into the first tank, this is the cold high-pressure one with the electrodes. the tank should have some tubes around the outside, solder this up to the liquid nitrogen vessel and hook up the pump.

if you fray two wires from mains and attach them at either end of the tank it should flow through the co2. make sure to attach the grounding wire to the structure at some point. at the end of this chamber put in a 3 way, the oxygen will become a gas but the co2 will be a liquid. Be careful at this point, the oxygen is at high pressure and wants to go up. put one end of the 3 way pointing up, tube this into a receptacle that you can empty. On mars you would collect this but its too complicated on earth so just let it go. the co2 will continue down os tube it into another tank. for the high temp low-pressure we couldn't just put a heater into a can and pump stuff into it, we had to get creative. In order to get it up to over 1000 degrees, i would normally just use an acetylene torch. to get it up to that temp we took a kiln oven and pulled off the cover. this leaves just the heater and casing. the casing is aluminium and the centre is long as it has a power source it should work. there's no need to insulate it as the clay does this.

we welded the aluminium together to make it air tight and then put a whole on both sides to flow the gas through.

I would suggest for fun just having an open tube at the end as then you can fill up balloons. the methane will come out as a liquid and quickly evaporate.

Step 4: Completion

So that is the plant.

now one thing is left,

burning some methane.

stay tuned and we will do some serious burning.



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