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Reliable energy

Having a permanent supply of energy is crucial in the sustainability of a permanent base on Mars. Not only relaying on the energy through solar panels out of what the sun supplies. In the previous chapter I tried to give a permanent solution towards a constant supply in energy. Regretfully that solution cannot work. I have to come with a reliable form of energy other than solar energy, however in my alternative solar energy is still the start of the whole process. As long as we don’t know the weather conditions on Mars, where we e.g. don’t know whether there is a constant flow of air (wind) so much that wind-mills can be productive, we can only relay on the fact that there is the sun that supplies energy by means of solar panels.

The Mars-one group claims that the enormous amount of solar panels in front of their base is sufficient to supply the base of energy during daytime and at the same time to supply enough energy to the batteries for the energy needed during the dark hours. This is a plausible conclusion, probably based on well calculated theoretical measurements. However, how well calculated one can be? When something goes wrong or when the batteries cannot keep enough energy due to aging, you have a problem.

Mars one concept

 A very good battery lasts five years and then starts to lose its capacity. Mankind survives 70 years on average or 14 times very good batteries. A constant supply of batteries is not very likely. I am pessimistic in it to believe that when the first 20 or 30 people have landed on Mars, the continuation of the whole project will be questionable when the costs won’t balance the profits. When enormous amounts of uranium, gold, or whatever valuable minerals won’t be found on Mars the project may stop to exist.

Those 20 or 30 people cannot return to Earth. They will be on their own and need to be able to survive. That is impossible when they have to rely on solar power supported by batteries alone. They need to have an alternative storing energy in another form then batteries. In a form that supplies energy like the sun through heat or radiation or a mill through wind. Like fuel you burn in an engine that drives an alternator which supplies the electricity you need.

The good news is that there is no problem shipping such an ‘engine’ while the elements to fuel it are present on planet Mars. The elements are hydrogen and oxygen. The ‘engine’ that supplies electricity out of the interaction of these two elements, is called a fuel cell. The in my few only reliable other form of energy people can create on Mars, than the sun through solar panels. However, the solar panels are still needed turning water in its elements hydrogen and oxygen through electrolysis. There will be plenty panels so that cannot be the problem.

The fuel cell will only be ‘started’ when there is a need of extra electric energy. For example when the sun does not shine during the night or when there is a sandstorm. Every night or part of the night you don’t need the extra energy out of the fuel cell, the hydrogen and oxygen storage tanks will be filled till extra electricity is really needed. This way one can accumulate potential energy for months as long as the storage tanks are sufficient in seize. (A sandstorm on Mars can take several months).

A most pleasant result of the interaction of the two elements hydrogen and oxygen in the fuel cell is that the ‘exhaust gases’ are pure water which on their turn can be split again in the initial elements hydrogen and oxygen through electrolysis.                        Best is to bring the storage tanks from Earth or the tanks in the transport capsules from Earth to Mars can be used? These transport capsules have rocket driven landing equipment for positioning the capsule on the right location. I presume rocket fuel is stored in tanks you don’t need any longer once you have landed.

mars once concept

 The hydrogen engines of the future don’t burn hydrogen. Burning hydrogen is very inefficient because lots of energy is lost into heat. Instead there is a kind of ‘cold’ reaction between hydrogen and oxygen in the so called fuel cell. In this reaction an electric current is generated which is used to drive an electric motor and battery pack. Here below an explanatory principle of the fuel cell technology.

fuel cell basic drawing

Hydrogen and oxygen are separately supplied to the fuel cell. The hydrogen at the anode and the oxygen at the cathode. In the cell these gasses are separated by a membrane. Using a catalyst, the hydrogen (H2) at the anode split into two protons (H+) and two electrons (e-). The electrons then flow through an electrical circuit to the cathode. This is the electric current that can be used to drive the electric motor and/or to load the battery. The protons flow through the electrolyte to the cathode. The protons and electrons unite at the cathode and react with oxygen (O2). In this process water (H2O) is formed.

A single cell produces a theoretical voltage of about 1.20 Volts, but in practice it is much lower. Between 0.5 and 0.8 Volts. To increase the current cells are stacked in series or parallel. The stack so formed is a “fuel cell” or “stack”.

In fuel cells higher efficiencies are created than what is possible with ordinary combustion engines, because the energy is not first going into heat to be then converted into electric energy.

So here we use hydrogen technology to transfer it directly into electrical energy. Electrical energy is the energy needed on Mars. The in my view only reliable form of energy one can even store other than the sun that only supplies its energy during the day and when Mars is not covered by sand storms or whatever else. It is crucial for survival of mankind on whatever planet having an alternative energy supply when the initial supply fails. I cannot emphasize this enough.

Now let’s see how far fuel cell technology has evolved on our own planet:

Of Mercedes:

 Mercedes-Benz B-Class F-CELL: The first fuel cell automobile in series production

Manufacture of a small series of the Mercedes-Benz B-Class F-CELL commenced in late 2009. With its 700-bar hydrogen tank in the sandwich floor unit, the first fuel cell passenger car from Mercedes-Benz to be produced under series conditions attains an operating range of around 400 kilometers. Its electric motor develops an output of 100 kilowatts, with a torque of 290 newtonmeters,´and thus has the power rating of a two-liter gasoline engine.

The clean, quiet, and powerful fuel cell drive unit consumes 3.3 liters per 100 kilometers (diesel equivalent) and makes for a top speed of 170 km / h. The next step toward market introduction has already been taken: In December 2010, Mercedes-Benz delivered the first of a total of 200 B-Class F-CELL cars in Germany and the United States. In California alone, 70 B-Class vehicles with fuel´cell will be handed over to customers by 2012.

fuel cell in MercedesAn individual fuel cell is only about two millimeters thick. Since it generates a comparatively low potential of less than 1 volt, several hundred cells are connected in series to form a so-called stack. The system potential thereby attained, amounting to 200 volts, is sufficient to power a vehicle.

fuel cell in Mercedes 2

 And how interesting even at Nasa:

NASA engineers at the Glenn Research Center in Cleveland are developing a fuel cell that will let planetary rovers operate longer, especially in the cold and dark. Current rovers rely on batteries recharged with electricity from solar panels. But NASA wants to send rovers into canyons and valleys on Mars that aren’t in the sunlight because these shaded areas are more likely to have water (ice) near the surface than areas exposed to sunlight, and finding water would change NASA’s plans for exploring Mars. These areas are also colder than those exposed to sunlight, which reduces battery capacity. So today’s rovers have limited time — anywhere from a few hours to a few days — to explore shadowed areas. But a fuel cell could power a rover for weeks at time, despite the cold and darkness.

 planetary-rovers fuel cell

Fuel cells used in space exploration use hydrogen and pure oxygen, whereas those built for use on Earth rely on hydrogen and air, though only the oxygen from the air is really needed. Using pure oxygen eliminates the need to get rid of impurities found in air. This is one way NASA can boost fuel-cell efficiency.

And although it seems contradictory, NASA’s nonflow-through cells are larger and heavier than conventional fuel cells. This lets NASA use higher pressures and temperatures inside — about 70°C and 45 psi for both the hydrogen and oxygen, compared with just a few pounds/square inch over ambient and room temperature for  conventional cells. All these factors make the rover cell more efficient at converting hydrogen and water to electricity. So the larger size and weight of the NASA cell is offset by the additional electricity it can extract from the store of water carried onboard the rover or spacecraft.

fuel cell rover Nasa

 NASA can also configure a rover to use solar panels to generate electricity for converting water to hydrogen and oxygen through electrolysis. The rover would use the hydrogen and oxygen to resupply the fuel cell’s reactant tanks and extend its power generation capability.

Well, type ‘ fuel cell technology’ in Google search and you’ll find lots examples which are experimental as well as  daily used.

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An alternative Mars energy resource.

I have made a research into alternative energy sources known on Earth and thought to have found a good alternative for the numerous solar panels Mars-One intends to ship for supplying its base of sufficient energy. It is an alternative that needed to be studied by a physician on its workability as my knowledge is insufficient in concluding that my alternative is feasible. I thought it may be possible that my conclusion at the end of this page could be a reinvented ‘perpetuum mobile’, which is Latin for a form of energy that always supplies energy and which (therefore) cannot exist.

My brother is a physician and he concluded that my alternative is not feasible. Still I’ll publish my small research in order to give a better understanding of the weather conditions on Mars and other information I supply which may open the creative mind of someone else. Beside that the described heat-pump is a feasible option heating up the Mars base without a great loss of electrical energy.

To understand my philosophy in creating an alternative Mars energy I shall explain step by step how I came to my conclusions. Let us therefore start with the energy from the heat out of the earth, called geothermal energy. A detailed explanation concerning this geothermal energy you can read here.

 Below the earth’s crust there is a layer of hot, molten rock called magma. A hole of 3 to 10 kilometers deep is drilled down towards this layer to the depth where the rock is hot enough to easily boil water and produce steam. Water is then pumped down the hole to crack and fracture the hot rock layer, which allows for greater amounts of water to be circulated. More water is pumped down and that gets boiled by the heat of the rock. The resulting steam rises through another man-made hole to a geothermal processing plant at the surface. The steam drives turbines in the plant which generate electricity. This electricity is then connected to a power grid and distributed.

Once the steam cools, it condenses to water and is pumped back underground to be boiled and repeat the process.

See explaining pictures below.

1 23

 This works great on Earth where you have the facilities and knowhow where to drill holes that deep to a known hot source. From the mars soil we know next to nothing. Therefore the above alternative form of energy is not practical for this moment. However, the knowledge of obtaining energy from steam through an AC power generator is very useable. I want to emphasize that you need pumps and other equipment that use energy to eventually create a much bigger form of energy to drive these pumps etc. and supply other distributors for electrical energy as well. So the energy needed to activate the steam power generator is here well compensated.

Let us now go to another form of energy supplier, the heat pump. Details concerning the working of this can be found here.

At first see a schematic representation of the heat pump below.


 Making such a pump optimally efficient on Mars one needs to drill a hole in its soil till +2 degrees Celsius has been reached. Mars has volcanic activity. Like Earth, it is known Mars has magma. I presume a mere 100 to 300 meters drilling is sufficient. Possibly even less deep.                                                                                                                                             Instead of drilling one may find a relatively warm spot near the base camp. Think of the sewage or a pressurized tank outside. Now let us not worry about where to find the brine source and concentrate on the working of the heat pump itself.

In the brine cycle, evaporator and condenser the gas R407C eventually heats up the heating cycle where oil or water fluid transfers the obtained heat of the heating cycle. R407C gas can obtain energy from a source (brine) far below freezing temperature but preferably higher than -20 and supply energy till +60degrees Celsius. The ideal brine temperature is round about zero degrees Celsius. The main ‘secret’ of the heat pump is the electrically driven compressor that quickly heats up the gas by increasing the gas pressure and the expansion valve that decreases it again after heat is taken from the condenser.

The ratio between the useful energy generated and the electrical energy consumed for this process is about 3.5. (Or in other words: The heat supplied divided by the electrical energy required) So for every unit of electricity used by the heat pump 3.5 units of energy to usable heat are created. In other words the heat pump has an efficiency of 350 percent. In technical terms: a Coefficient Of Performance (COP) of 3.5 (about 30%).

 In the households on Earth, certainly possible on Mars, the heating cycle warms up a water boiler for heating the house or on Mars the base.


Picture of a heat pump for households.

Now let me describe my alternative to generate electrical energy:

For this we return to both the heat pump as well as to the power plant that produces electricity by using a steam generator. I am not going to use the heating cycle to warm up the Mars-One base but to instantly evaporate water fluid into steam that supplies a steam generator. The electricity produced must be sufficient to drive the whole system and produce rest energy for other distributors as well.

The principle is easy. The heat produced by the heat pump is enough to turn water into steam on Mars. On Mars the air pressure is about 0.01 bar or in other words, 1% of that on Earth. At 0.01 bar water boils between the 7 and 10 degrees Celsius. The +35 degrees from the heat pump won’t give the water much time to boil. Water almost instantly turns into +30 degrees steam. In the principle drawing below one can see that I added a compressor after the water turned into steam. This to suck up the steam, pressurize it and thus further increase the steam temperature. I presume this makes the steam generator (turbine) more efficient. The steam leaving the generator flows back and cools off in a water basin of +1 degrees Celsius. From this basin water will be pumped to the +35 degrees heat coils and the process starts again.

See my schematic representation here below:


A heat pump needs 6 – 10 kW on electrical energy and is then able to warm up a complete house on Earth. In my idea I added another compressor and a pump, so let us say the system above needs 10 – 15 kW. An efficient generator, in this case comparable with a small car engine supplies a lot more than 15 kW.

My brother, the physician, concludes that adding the compressor costs more energy than you will ever get out of the AC power generator or turbine. He explains it as it is like you have a wheel of a bicycle where the tire drives a dynamo to supply electrical energy. By adding an engine (like the compressor) on the wheel to let it turn faster, the dynamo supplies more energy but it will never be more than what the engine needs. Leaving out the compressor means you need a low compression turbine which may be available but it is likely that its efficiency is too low.

I’ll keep on looking for an alternative Mars energy resource because I don’t think you can send people to another planet when your basic source cannot supply enough energy due to whatever reason. Going nuclear is an option but is that feasible on the long term? For me going nuclear is not an option.

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Lives dependency on Mars

In the picture below, have a look at the proposed situation Mars-One  has in mind setting up its base.

One sees a lot of solar panels in front of the base itself. The conclusion everyone makes is that the living conditions on Mars depend on (solar) energy. It is completely correct to state that no life on Mars is sustainable without electric energy.

Mars one 2 50%

 Energy is needed to heat the settlement, to keep up the air pressure, to supply power for the lights, to supply the power for the oxygen to breath, to cook, to communicate, and last but not least to store energy when the sun is not shining on the solar panels like you have in the evening or when sand storms cover the panels.

In fact the situation above is similar to any space lab or rocket traveling through space only with much more solar panels. Much more, because on a planet solar energy very much depends on its environment, where you don’t have that problem in space. I presume these extra panels need to secure the sources out of which energy can be created when the panels don’t supply energy. Like total darkness.

A source that can keep energy are numerous batteries. However, these are heavy and not long lasting. Useful for minor, low voltage back-ups, like cellulair instruments . The mayor source of obtaining energy during the evening is the accumulation of hydrogen and oxygen through electrolysis during daytime. These gasses are stored in tanks. During the evening the interaction of these gasses by means of a fuel-cell will supply the electrical energy needed. How the fuel cell works I explained a year ago here.

All very nice, but what when the sun doesn’t shine on the solar panels for several months? See here below a picture of a storm on Mars that lasted several months indeed.


 Details about the picture above here.

This situation would be catastrophic for the Mars-One base as they suggest it to be. Everyone at the base will die because of the lack of solar energy. Therefor it is crucial making efforts not to rely on only the sun. In fact I believe solar energy is the temporarily solution before creating the permanent one towards a constant supply in energy on which one can always rely.

This in the next chapter: ‘Reliable energy’.

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How easy it is bringing livestock to Mars?

Actually it isn’t that easy except for fish that don’t need to be transported as a grown fish.  Fish eggs only hatch when the temperature is right. Theoretically when the temperature stays low, till say 5 degrees Celsius (you need to ask biologists), the eggs won’t hatch while still remaining fertile. We need to examine the maximum allowed period and conditions these eggs remain fertile till they have to hatch not to die. I am pretty sure a period of 7 months, the time it takes us flying to Mars, is within this maximum allowed period.

With chicken eggs I presume you cannot do this and rabbits are mammals like human who are born alive. Of course we need to be sure of the chickens that one or two are male and the others female. So anyhow we cannot transport them in egg-form. Only cocks or only hens don’t make chickens. I am not a biologist but that everyone understands very well. These chaps need to be transported alive.

Teaching chickens and rabbits how to stay in a weightless environment for months, is impossible. So they need a form of permanent gravitation during the 7 months trip. In the relatively small space ship it is possible to create 1/5 to 1/4 of Earth’s gravity (g) for these small animals, however not for human or only then when human stay lying down. Gravity in a space ship can only be created when you turn something around. Gravity through centrifugal force as shown in the draft here below.

cage centr force

In the 1 cubic meter cages A and B small animals feel comfortable when the whole rocket wall would turn in the direction of the arrows 10 rotations per minute.  Or one whole turn every 6 seconds. The gravitation at the bottom of the cages is 0.28 (1/4+) times that on Earth.  Men would feel dizzy because their head is almost in the centre where is no gravitation while their feet and lower body have.

There is a formula for such gravitational forces in space:

  1.                       formula
  2. g = Decimal fraction of Earth gravity
  3. R = Radius from center of rotation in meters
  4. rpm = revolutions per minute

Some calculations gave me the following Earth gravities:

  • rpm 6 = 0.1 g (Is 10% of Earth gravity)
  • rpm 7 = 0.136 g
  • rpm 8 = 0.178 g
  • rpm 9 = 0.226 g
  • rpm 10 = 0.279 g
  • rpm 11 = 0.338 g (Which is about the gravitation on Mars)
  • rpm 12 = 0.4 g
  • rpm 15 = 0.628 g
  • rpm 19 = 1.01 g

Mars One co-founder Bas Lansdorp, was kind enough to tell me that the space ship has the inner dimensions of 5 diameters by 11 meters long.  What will be inside, nobody up to Nasa at the moment exactly knows.  An artificial gravitation unit may be optional.

For small animals possibly 10 to 11 rotations per minute are sufficient maintaining their muscles strong enough for the descent to Mars where the gravity is 1/3 that of Earth.  The launch and then return, from Earth and then into Mars, give g-forces to bodies of every form of living creature. The g-force acceleration acts as a multiplier of weight-like forces for every unit of an object’s mass. Three g’s tends to be about the maximum not losing consciousness for human. I wonder if there is any knowledge concerning animals.

Here below a picture taken in the sky-lab where a Canadian astronaut tested her feelings when it would be most comfortable to be on a ‘conveyor-belt’ which created gravity by turning.  See for more explanation here.


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Small livestock

Can you imagine being a young 20 or 30 year old man or woman going for the rest of your whole life to another world only eating vegetables and beside your companions not seeing any other life form? Not even a bee, fly or ant? Drinking milk and eating meat extracted from soya beans? Indeed, neither I can imagine that. Those who are willing to sacrifice their life styles as such don’t realize the enormous consequences. I immigrated twice in my life and know very well what it is to feel secluded because of an unknown environment. On Earth there is a way to overcome, most of time in changing your attitude, however how when you are on another planet where one is utterly restricted in movements and thoughts?

The first years of research on Mars will be exiting and one is most willing to sacrifice. At some stage you realize research is not everything life has to offer and you start to think of what future may bring and how it was in the past. You start to miss your old environment.

Most important is to create a kind of known environment in the first place not to fall in disastrous depression later. One needs to be distracted to stay alert and feel comfortable all the time. Livestock plays here a crucial role. Animals don’t behave like you want them to. They may comfort you but also give headaches. Very good! Not everything goes smooth. Similar to the living conditions on Earth. Of course extraction in nuisance is needed to keep on acting as a human being. A calculated life is a dull life and cannot continue to be interesting.

I am thinking of chickens, trout and soft hairy rabbits. Eggs in the first place and their meat second, fish as food (omega) is obvious, rabbits for warm and comfortable companionship as well as food and warm skin. Small livestock which is easy to transport from Earth to Mars. Bigger livestock like cows, sheep or goats are impossible because there won’t be an environment big enough for them on Mars yet. Milk, for the time being, has to be extracted from soya beans. Cheese and butter out of natural milk won’t be available either. Compromises need to be made here.

Very important to see how especially rabbits multiply. You shouldn’t stop them from doing so. When they succeed several times without mayor complications human can  take their own conclusions. A human baby shall probably change men on Mars forever. Then a ‘switch’ in the minds of his or her parents changes the future of Mars colonialism. Once being a parent life makes a ‘180 degrees’ turn. Suddenly your own life is not the most important anymore. Only then men realizes their life is suddenly less important than the small one in the cradle. For every woman, especially when being a mother, it was always obvious. Men, like I am, realize it when the baby is born.

By then, life on Mars is secure and also research will blossom.


Next: How easy it is bringing livestock to Mars?


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The Jimmy-hut explained.

The main structure (F, D & C) is the aluminum ‘grey’ positioned on Mars surface. Encircled is an aluminum angled plate (D) of about 6 cm. width with two hinged parts   ( C ) moving out to the left. This structure should be covered by rocks and soil (E)  and as such pressing the aluminum structure to the direction of Mars surface. Pressure towards Mars surface is needed because the inside pressure from the direction of B is 0.8 atmosphere (bar) against a Mars pressure on the flexi glass A of only 0.01 bar.

The purposes of the aluminum structure (D & F) are to create a frame for the flexi glass windows (A) on top and to prevent these windows flying away due to the higher pressure (B) below.

Glasses (A) should be double glassed or better less breakable double flexi glassed, separating and isolating the cold Mars temperatures from the relatively hot temperatures inside ‘Jimmy’s-hut’. Mars temperatures can be minus 50 degrees Celsius where the temperature in the greenhouse Jimmy-hut structure will be around plus 15 degrees. Again I need to emphasize not only pressure but also the heat, or the lack of it, is our enemy on Mars.

The aluminum angled plate (D) is as such constructed that frame F fits in it. The aluminum structure as such is strong enough, if not even too strong, to be build on Earth. On Mars where the gravitation is 1/3 of Earth it is absolutely sufficient. However, I do have to admit that I don’t know for sure whether this roof construction supported by Mars soil is sufficient to hold the difference in pressure of a mere one bar. It is just 1 atmosphere or one bar in pressure what is the difference, but when it concerns pressures zero to one, my knowledge is not enough. All pressures from 1 to let say 100 bar I understand. That is basic knowledge in physics or mathematics. But from almost zero to one can be completely different. There some bright head needs to complete me in knowledge.

‘G’ is a rubber protection with the purpose to make the construction water- or airtight.

‘H’ is the same rubber (preferably not plastic) protection that will be hermetically glued to ‘G’. Other than what I have previously suggested may rubber with a thickness of 5 mm. be a much better and sustaining protection than plastic sheet. Plastic sheet is much less flexible. Practical for ponds that don’t need to exist much more than 10 to 15 years, but certainly unwarranted for sustainable achievements.

This roof structure of aluminum and flexi glass have to be brought from Earth. Only slightly more volume is needed for the rubber sheets covering the below Mars surface dug out (excavation) where trees or whatever will grow. These additional rubber rolled-up sheets don’t have the volume that may create problems in transportation. The volume a 10 by 30 meters Jimmy-hut may take, won’t be more than 20 mtr2 with a weight of less than three tons. That for good living conditions on a new planet is not a price too high.

To come for those who like: Detailed technical drawings and other specific knowhow.

Next story however: Livestock (and the importance of that).

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