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NASA Launches New Competition To Turn CO2 Into Energy

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Photo of honey. NASA has launched a contest aiming to crowdsource a design that can convert carbon dioxide into glucose as an energy source. The effort is part of the space agency's plan to send humans to Mars by 2030.  ( Steve Buissinne | Pixabay )

NASA wants to equip its manned mission to Mars with a technology that can convert carbon dioxide into an energy source.

The space agency has launched the CO2 Conversion Challenge in the hopes of encouraging the public to find ways to turn carbon dioxide, which is abundant in the Red Planet, to compounds that will be useful to astronauts.

"Enabling sustained human life on another planet will require a great deal of resources and we cannot possibly bring everything we will need," said  Monsi Roman, Centennial Challenges program manager. "If we can transform an existing and plentiful resource like carbon dioxide into a variety of useful products, the space — and terrestrial — applications are endless."

Glucose In Mars

The competition will focus on developing glucose, a compound made up of hydrogen, carbon, and oxygen. On Earth, glucose or soluble sugar is plentiful and inexpensive because they are produced by plants.

However, because of the harsh conditions on Mars, recreating the approach would be nearly impossible. Resources such as water, energy, and even the crew needed to tend to the creation of glucose through plants are extremely limited.

"Energy rich sugars are preferred microbial energy sources composed of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen atom," read the press release disseminated on Aug. 30. "They could be used as the feedstock for systems that can efficiently produce a variety of items. Glucose is the target sugar product in this challenge because it is the easiest to metabolize, which will optimize conversion efficiency."

The winning design could also be used on Earth in order to reduce the carbon dioxide emitted to the atmosphere every day and hopefully, reverse the effects of global warming.

Contest Details And Prizes

Entries will undergo two phases: Phase 1 is submission while Phase 2 is construction and demonstration. Those who want to be involved must submit a design with a description of their approach, including the process that will convert carbon to glucose. As many as five teams will be selected, with each getting $50,000.

Phase 2 or Demonstration Challenge would ask the selected team to build and demonstrate their design. The most promising approach will take home $750,000.

Registration is now open via the NASA CO2 Conversion Challenge website. The space agency will continue to accept submissions until Feb. 28, 2019.

Humans On Mars

In April 2017, NASA announced plans to send humans to Mars. The space agency unveiled a five-phase plan, the most detailed plan to date, to get astronauts safely to the Earth's neighboring planet.

Phase 1, set to take place from 2018 to 2025, includes the launch and testing of six SLS rockets. NASA expects to send a manned mission to Mars by 2030s.

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