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#1 2012-01-18 13:44:58

louis
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From: UK
Registered: 2008-03-24
Posts: 5,441

Chemicals centre on Mars

Discussion of the scope for polymer production, leads me to try and conceptualise how we would organise chemicals production as part of  scaled down industrial infrastructure.

Of course we may have a major rocket fuel production operation going from early on, maybe Mission One, but what about the wide range of chemicals we need to produce to facilitate industrial production, make fertiliser and maybe maintain life support? Does anyone have any views on the following:

(a) Is it best to concentrate chemicals production in one centre - or better to create as many centres as possible? Which carries more risk?

(b) What should be the main chemicals we aim to produce after the more obvious oxygen, hydrogen, carbon, methane, silicon...?

(c) Is there a way you can group production of chemicals from a safety or utility angle?

(d) How do we do store the chemicals? Will glass containers be could for many of them?  Should they be stored away from the chemicals centre post-production?

(e) Do you agree we should keep to an absolute minimum storage of chemicals in the habitat?

(f) How far away from the habitat should be the chemicals centre?

(g) Should there be special safety procedures on Mars for chemicals production? I am thinking of perhaps (i) wearing of space suits and (ii) having someone actually ready with a fire extinguisher at all times during chemicals handling.

(h) Any other thoughts?

Last edited by louis (2012-01-18 13:45:23)


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#2 2012-01-18 23:24:23

JoshNH4H
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From: Pullman, WA
Registered: 2007-07-15
Posts: 2,526
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Re: Chemicals centre on Mars

One highly, highly important point on this topic and then two offshoots:  The topic of the production of "chemicals" is so broad and so important to the survival of the colony, involving so many different products, starting materials, procedures, reactions, as well as having such fuzzy boundaries, that it is extremely difficult to talk about it in a coherent manner; Chemical Engineering will be one of the most important occupations in any Mars colony.

Two offshoots of this: Firstly, you seem to have a general dislike or aversion to "chemicals" as evidenced by points a,e,f,g, and part of c talking about supposed dangers of "chemicals."  Secondly, just about everything is a chemical; Essentially, if it's electrically neutral and made of atoms, it's a chemical.  Pure, filtered water is a chemical.  Air is a mixture of chemicals.  Talking about chemicals as a whole like they're uniformly dangerous badly obscures the realities of the situation.  When I put my retainer in water and then drop in one of the cleaning tablets, that's a chemical reaction, but it's an entirely safe one.  Baking Soda and Vinegar is a chemical reaction, but you can literally do it inside your mouth without the slightest bit of danger. 

For all the difficulty in addressing it, the production of chemicals is extremely important.  Quickly listing off all of the chemicals which the compound could conceivably need to produce through chemical means:

Water, Oxygen, Nitrogen, Carbon Monoxide, Carbon, Hydrogen, Chlorine, Hydrochloric Acid, Sulfuric Acid, Sodium Hydroxide (or equivalent base), Silicone polymer, Silicone oil, heavier hydrocarbons, Formaldehyde, Methanol, Ammonia, Nitrogen dioxide, Methane, Iron, Aluminium, Silicon (though not for PV panels), Magnetite (Fe3O4; Or similar magnetic material), Argon, Probably Organic Solvents, including but not limited to dimethyl Ether, Ethanol, benzene and others, Melamine Resin, made from formaldehyde and melamine (itself made from Urea, which can be synthesized by mixing Ammonia and CO2 under the correct conditions), Alloys which may or may not be considered to be chemical mixtures in nature, Iron pentacarbonyl to be used in the production, forming, and purification of Iron, likely unsaturated hydrocarbons such as ethene (ethylene) and ethyne (acetylene) and equivalents for molecules with more carbons, probably nitric acid, nitrate salts for use in blasting, as well as a wide variety of intermediate chemicals which will probably be found to be produced in the synthesis of these others.  Catalysts will also be absolutely vital, but many of these will probably be imported from Earth either due to tremendous complexity at the molecular level or rarity (Ex., platinum).  Due to the low mass required for catalysts relative to output this is not a significant expense.

This list is by no means exhaustive. 

If you're interested in talking about safety, most of these reactions will of necessity be going on in closed vessels.  In many cases, this will be all the safety that will be needed.  In other cases, it might be expedient to have an airtight door between the production building and the rest of the hab, depending how toxic or volatile the chemical being produced is.  Another option is to make the reaction proceed in reaction vessels which are outside any hab.  This is a case where even a millimeter of Martian near-vacuum is enough to protect one from any kind of chemical release.

In terms of physical location, chemical synthesis will be far too important and too large to put in any one structure, but it makes the most sense to put related procedures as close to each other as possible.  Something else to keep in mind is that by tying endothermic reactions to exothermic ones in terms of heat transport, it should be possible to create significant energy savings of a magnitude which I cannot try to estimate here.


-Josh

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#3 2012-01-20 04:04:48

Glandu
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From: France
Registered: 2011-11-23
Posts: 106

Re: Chemicals centre on Mars

globally OK with Josh.

Industrially speaking, it's always more efficient to put everything together. As long as there is enough distance to avoid a chain reaction. We should avoid catastrophes like this destroying the whole settlement. But more distance would be a waste.


"I promise not to exclude from consideration any idea based on its source, but to consider ideas across schools and heritages in order to find the ones that best suit the current situation." (Alistair Cockburn, Oath of Non-Allegiance)

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#4 2012-01-20 15:09:27

JoshNH4H
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From: Pullman, WA
Registered: 2007-07-15
Posts: 2,526
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Re: Chemicals centre on Mars

Glandu- Fortunately, we will not be producing significant amounts of chemicals which are actually explosive.  Point taken, though, incompatible chemicals should be kept away from each other.

As I said before, the near vacuum of the surface of the planet is a huge benefit when it comes to isolating chemicals.  I would imagine that any gas or liquid of which a significant quantity will be produced will be stored in a separate pressure vessel outside of the hab, and pumped in through pipes where necessary.  Solids are a bit more tricky and will probably have dedicated storehouses.  Fortunately, most of the solids produced will be pretty nonreactive, seeing as metals will probable constitute the bulk of the solids produced by chemical means will probably be metals, which are not reactive.

The question of storage is an interesting one, though.  In part, I suppose it can be solved by careful analysis of how much of each product will be needed, and production to suit that need.  However, when you come to things like oxygen or methane, how would one store those?  Refrigeration down to liquid temperatures, while not impossible, is energetically expensive and not desirable.  Storage as a compressed gas requires a heavy container and results in a low density.  Any thoughts on the storage of the more volatile substances produced?


-Josh

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#5 2012-01-20 22:21:06

louis
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From: UK
Registered: 2008-03-24
Posts: 5,441

Re: Chemicals centre on Mars

JoshNH4H wrote:

One highly, highly important point on this topic and then two offshoots:  The topic of the production of "chemicals" is so broad and so important to the survival of the colony, involving so many different products, starting materials, procedures, reactions, as well as having such fuzzy boundaries, that it is extremely difficult to talk about it in a coherent manner; Chemical Engineering will be one of the most important occupations in any Mars colony.

Two offshoots of this: Firstly, you seem to have a general dislike or aversion to "chemicals" as evidenced by points a,e,f,g, and part of c talking about supposed dangers of "chemicals."  Secondly, just about everything is a chemical; Essentially, if it's electrically neutral and made of atoms, it's a chemical.  Pure, filtered water is a chemical.  Air is a mixture of chemicals.  Talking about chemicals as a whole like they're uniformly dangerous badly obscures the realities of the situation.  When I put my retainer in water and then drop in one of the cleaning tablets, that's a chemical reaction, but it's an entirely safe one.  Baking Soda and Vinegar is a chemical reaction, but you can literally do it inside your mouth without the slightest bit of danger.

Save the lecture Josh, I am fully aware that air and water and me are made of chemicals.

However we do refer to the chemicals industry on Earth and by that we usually mean the chemicals necessary to agriculture and industry.  They require a lot of processing, special handling - and they are dangerous which is why explosions and fires at chemical plants have been among the worst seen on the planet. We can afford to lose a few people out of 6 billion on Earth, but we can't afford to lose a single settler on Mars. So this is an important question - or rather series of questions.

From the answers so far I'd say I think we need to have as our motto "keep it simple" to begin with...we shouldn't try anything too  complex with chemicals to begin with. Perhaps we should focus on rocket fuel.  It may safer and more productive to focus on metals, glass and glass fibre as involving fairly simple processes.


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#6 2012-01-20 23:48:33

JoshNH4H
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From: Pullman, WA
Registered: 2007-07-15
Posts: 2,526
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Re: Chemicals centre on Mars

Save the lecture Josh, I am fully aware that air and water and me are made of chemicals.

Though obvious, the point I was making there is IMO extremely important to our understanding of the production of chemicals on the Red Planet.  It's very difficult to talk about process or economics without knowing the specific reaction that you want to do, or at least the final product which you want to create.  The basic point here is that different chemicals are so different that speaking about them generally will not yield productive results.

On Earth, the chemicals industry might be a limited thing.  This is not true on Mars.  Everything on Mars is directly dependent on the chemicals industry.  Every plant, every machine, every structure, every joule of energy will be no more than two stages removed from the chemicals industry.  If I appear to be lecturing it's only because you missed what is in my opinion a very important aspect of this issue. 

Further, not all of the compounds produced by the chemicals industry on Earth are toxic or explosive.  Some are simply complex or not found in nature.  Some are desired for their abrasive properties (For example, Silicon Carbide and Diamond).  Probably the most significant product of the chemical industry on Earth is gasoline and related petroleum derivatives. 

Firstly, with regard to the chemicals which you generally talk about synthesizing:

Rocket Fuel:  Why?  If we're talking about our prototype mostly self-sufficient colony then we're not going to be launching much into LMO at all.  Given the complexity of rockets these are most certainly not a product we will be looking at making until several years have passed.  Methane and oxygen are obviously going to be necessary for a goodly proportion of reactions, but focusing on producing rocket fuel for a very limited number of rocket launches doesn't make any sense to me.

Otherwise, metals (particularly Iron and its derivative, Steel) will be huge.  I don't know why you chose glass fiber as being particularly special, especially since Basalt Fiber will probably be the material of choice if you're looking for something with tensile strength or something to composite with.

More generally, chemical production techniques will be required to produce a lot of different things.  As I said before, they're going to be vital to the survival of the colony.  Rather than arbitrarily choosing a few different products to "focus on," it will be necessary to provide this industry with sufficient capacity and variety to produce a very wide variety of products, hopefully with relatively standard components.


-Josh

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#7 2012-01-21 06:07:36

Terraformer
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From: Lancashire
Registered: 2007-08-27
Posts: 3,202
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Re: Chemicals centre on Mars

I think we need to have a part of the colony devoted to Pharmaceuticals - though they could be imported from Terra, they may have to wait 2 years to get them, and the demand is unpredictable. I'd prefer to keep them separate from the rest of the chemical processing, since these are intended to actually ingest. We're not talking about massive amounts, so we'll need to have a very versatile production ability. Fortunately, I think a lot of the processes are the same in a lot of what we'd want to produce.


"I guarantee you that at some point, everything's going to go south on you, and you're going to say, 'This is it, this is how I end.' Now you can either accept that, or you can get to work." - Mark Watney

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#8 2012-01-21 10:17:29

louis
Member
From: UK
Registered: 2008-03-24
Posts: 5,441

Re: Chemicals centre on Mars

JoshNH4H wrote:

Save the lecture Josh, I am fully aware that air and water and me are made of chemicals.

Though obvious, the point I was making there is IMO extremely important to our understanding of the production of chemicals on the Red Planet.  It's very difficult to talk about process or economics without knowing the specific reaction that you want to do, or at least the final product which you want to create.  The basic point here is that different chemicals are so different that speaking about them generally will not yield productive results.

On Earth, the chemicals industry might be a limited thing.  This is not true on Mars.  Everything on Mars is directly dependent on the chemicals industry.  Every plant, every machine, every structure, every joule of energy will be no more than two stages removed from the chemicals industry.  If I appear to be lecturing it's only because you missed what is in my opinion a very important aspect of this issue. 

Further, not all of the compounds produced by the chemicals industry on Earth are toxic or explosive.  Some are simply complex or not found in nature.  Some are desired for their abrasive properties (For example, Silicon Carbide and Diamond).  Probably the most significant product of the chemical industry on Earth is gasoline and related petroleum derivatives. 

Firstly, with regard to the chemicals which you generally talk about synthesizing:

Rocket Fuel:  Why?  If we're talking about our prototype mostly self-sufficient colony then we're not going to be launching much into LMO at all.  Given the complexity of rockets these are most certainly not a product we will be looking at making until several years have passed.  Methane and oxygen are obviously going to be necessary for a goodly proportion of reactions, but focusing on producing rocket fuel for a very limited number of rocket launches doesn't make any sense to me.

Otherwise, metals (particularly Iron and its derivative, Steel) will be huge.  I don't know why you chose glass fiber as being particularly special, especially since Basalt Fiber will probably be the material of choice if you're looking for something with tensile strength or something to composite with.

More generally, chemical production techniques will be required to produce a lot of different things.  As I said before, they're going to be vital to the survival of the colony.  Rather than arbitrarily choosing a few different products to "focus on," it will be necessary to provide this industry with sufficient capacity and variety to produce a very wide variety of products, hopefully with relatively standard components.

I accept that life on Mars is crucially dependent on the chemicals industry in a way it is not on Earth. 


Methane could double up as  rocket fuel:

http://www.space.com/3774-methane-rocke … ested.html

You can have fuel self-sufficiency before you have rocket self-sufficiency.

Here are some principles I would suggest we need to keep in mind:

1.  SIMPLICITY. The methane example is a good one.  If we can double up methane as a rocket fuel that may be a better way to go than trying to deal with the difficulties of managing other rocket fuels on the surface. If we "triple" it up and use it as energy storage as well, to avoid the need to import or make heavy batteries then all the better.

2. SUBSTITUTION.  Where possible we should substitute the easy to make materials for those that are difficult to manufacture. On that basis, although we need to investigate the potential for polymer production, it will probably be best to make most implements, containers and so on  out of wood (bamboo, specifically), metal, ceramics (formed basalt) and glass.

3. SAFETY,  We should have safety at the forefront of our minds and procedures at all times.   There must strict zoning of chemicals usage and we should avoid as far as possible the use of chemicals that required elaborate safety management.


There you go, the three Ss.

As for pharmaceuticals, these are mostly lightweight and not a huge demand on the colony's capabilities. However I think we should develop plant based pharmaceuticals as we go along.


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#9 2012-01-21 15:37:24

JoshNH4H
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From: Pullman, WA
Registered: 2007-07-15
Posts: 2,526
Website

Re: Chemicals centre on Mars

With regards to your "Three Ss"

I would say that these are excellent design philosophies to keep in mind not just for the production of chemicals, but for the colony as a whole.  In order to create a close approximation of self-sufficiency as we seek to do, both the first and second points are vital.  The third point is of course important for any endeavor.  Something perhaps to keep in mind, though: Despite its highly technological nature, Mars in the early stages will nevertheless be a frontier.  I would suggest that one cannot expect, on the frontier, the same level of safety which in general can be established for populated first world countries.  I'm not saying that less attention should be paid to safety, by any means, but rather that accidents simply are going to happen on occasion and this is something that people are going to have to accept.

On pharmaceuticals:  I would bet that it would be very possible to predict the usage of a goodly proportion of them: Painkillers and antibiotics and antivirals will I imagine be used at a fairly regular rate.  I wouldn't imagine that the first few years would see too much in the way of odd illnesses.  I would imagine that the capacity to make pharamceuticals will exist in the form of the colony's chemical industry, plus some trained individuals at a lab bench.


-Josh

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#10 2012-01-21 22:53:00

SpaceNut
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From: New Hampshire
Registered: 2004-07-22
Posts: 17,744

Re: Chemicals centre on Mars

JoshNH4H wrote:

Quickly listing off all of the chemicals which the compound could conceivably need to produce through chemical means:

Water, Oxygen, Nitrogen, Carbon Monoxide, Carbon, Hydrogen, Chlorine, Hydrochloric Acid, Sulfuric Acid, Sodium Hydroxide (or equivalent base), Silicone polymer, Silicone oil, heavier hydrocarbons, Formaldehyde, Methanol, Ammonia, Nitrogen dioxide, Methane, Iron, Aluminium, Silicon (though not for PV panels), Magnetite (Fe3O4; Or similar magnetic material), Argon, Probably Organic Solvents, including but not limited to dimethyl Ether, Ethanol, benzene and others, Melamine Resin, made from formaldehyde and melamine (itself made from Urea, which can be synthesized by mixing Ammonia and CO2 under the correct conditions), Alloys which may or may not be considered to be chemical mixtures in nature, Iron pentacarbonyl to be used in the production, forming, and purification of Iron, likely unsaturated hydrocarbons such as ethene (ethylene) and ethyne (acetylene) and equivalents for molecules with more carbons, probably nitric acid, nitrate salts for use in blasting, as well as a wide variety of intermediate chemicals which will probably be found to be produced in the synthesis of these others.  Catalysts will also be absolutely vital, but many of these will probably be imported from Earth either due to tremendous complexity at the molecular level or rarity (Ex., platinum).  Due to the low mass required for catalysts relative to output this is not a significant expense.

This list is by no means exhaustive.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atmosphere_of_Mars

atmosphere on Mars
95% carbon dioxide,
3% nitrogen,
1.6% argon,

Oxygen 0.13%
Carbon monoxide 0.07%
Water vapor 0.03%
Nitric oxide 0.013%
Neon 2.5 μmol/mol
Krypton 300 nmol/mol
Formaldehyde 130 nmol/mol
Xenon 80 nmol/mol
Ozone 30 nmol/mol
Methane 10.5 nmol/mol

In-situ resource utilization will and can provide materials for life support, propellants, construction materials, and energy to a science payload.

File:In-Situ_Resource_Utilization_Testbed.gif

Sabatier reaction, CO2 + 4H2 → CH4 + 2H2O, in order to produce methane on the Martian surface, to be used as a propellant.

Reverse water gas shift reaction, CO2 + H2 → CO + H2O. This reaction takes place rapidly in the presence of an iron-chrome catalyst at 400 Celsius

electrolysis of Mars atmosphere 2CO2 (+ energy) → 2CO + O2 proposed for production of oxygen

Oxygen is often found in iron rich lunar minerals and glasses as iron oxide. The oxygen can be extracted by heating the material to temperatures above 900 °C and exposing it to hydrogen gas. The basic equation is: FeO + H2 → Fe + H2O.

Lets not forget that we have the soil as well to get resources from such as silicon, aluminum, calcium, iron and oxygen and with the dust storms the air may contain magnesium, sodium, potassium and chloride just to meantion a few.  The elements titanium, chromium, manganese, Sulphur, phosphorus, sodium, and chlorine are less abundant. Secondary minerals requiring liquid water include hematite, phyllosilicates (clay minerals), goethite, jarosite, iron sulfate minerals, opaline silica, and gypsum. Basalt contain the minerals olivine, pyroxene, plagioclase, and magnetite.

There are at least seven ISRU capabilities to refine regardless of where we go:
(i) resource extraction,
(ii) material handling and transport,
(iii) resource processing,
(iv) surface manufacturing with in-situ resources,
(v) surface construction,
(vi) surface ISRU product and consumable storage and distribution, and
(vii) ISRU unique development and certification capabilities.

Last edited by SpaceNut (2012-01-21 22:55:26)

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