Northumbria and Edinburgh Universities researchers have developed an innovative, new technique to harvest energy from carbon dioxide. The method may enable the creation of future power stations on the surface of Mars.

The research proposes a new kind of engine for producing energy based on the Leidenfrost effect – a phenomenon which happens when a liquid comes into near contact with a surface much hotter than its boiling point. Blocks of dry ice are able to levitate above hot surfaces protected by a barrier of evaporated gas vapor. Northumbria’s research proposes using the vapor created by this effect to power an engine.

The technique has implications for working in extreme and alien environments, such as outer space, where it could be used to make long-term exploration and colonization sustainable by using naturally occurring solid carbon dioxide as a resource rather than a waste product.

Increasing evidence from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) suggests that dry ice may be a naturally occurring resource on Mars, as suggested by the seasonal appearance of gullies on the surface of the red planet. If utilized in a Leidenfrost-based engine, the dry-ice deposits could provide the means to create future power on the Red Planet.

The working principle of a Leidenfrost-based engine differs from steam-based heat engines; the high-pressure vapor layer creates freely rotating rotors whose energy is converted into power without the need of a bearing, thus conferring the new engine with low-friction properties.


Also: Learn about Mars-Optimized Solar Cells.