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.
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.