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Solar-assisted oxygen and fuel production for long-term space travels and Moon habitats

Supervisor: Katharina Brinkert; ESA-Supervisors: Brigitte Lamaze, Christel Paille

The realization of long-term space travel and the establishment of a lunar research platform is challenged by the lack of technological devices for reliable and efficient oxygen and fuel generation utilizing minimal resources and producing minimal waste. Efficient artificial photosynthesis systems are currently realized as catalyst- and surface-functionalized photovoltaic tandem and triple junction devices enabling photoelectrochemical water oxidation while simultaneously recycling CO2 and generating hydrogen as a solar fuel for storable renewable energy. The successful implementation of an efficient photoelectrochemical (PEC) water splitting cell would therefore not only be a highly desirable approach to solving the energy challenge on earth: an effective air revitalization system generating a constant flux of O2 while simultaneously recycling CO2 and providing a sustainable fuel supply could also complement currently existing life support technologies for the International Space Station and long-term space missions, where a regular resupply from earth is not possible.

The overall aim of this PhD project is to realise a monolithic device which allows the unassisted, light-induced production of oxygen while simultaneously reducing CO2 to hydrocarbons (fuels) in reduced gravitational environments using technologically-advanced III-V tandem- and triple-junction semiconductors coated with electrocatalysts. These systems will be studied in experiments at the Bremen Drop Tower, focusing particularly on the J-V characteristics and efficiencies of the respective half-cells during 9.2s of free fall.

This aim is achieved by meeting the following key objectives:

  • Optimization of the electrocatalyst nanotopography for enhanced O2 gas bubble detachment in microgravity environment.
  • Development of a highly-efficient photoelectrochemical (PEC) cell for hydrogen and oxygen production in microgravity environment, based on the results obtained in 1) and currently ongoing studies involving the identification of an optimal hydrogen evolution catalyst morphology.
  • Terrestrial electrocatalyst development for CO2 reduction to a specific product (e.g., methane, ethanol, methanol, etc.) and integration in tandem-/triple-junction light absorber.
  • Development of an integrated water-splitting and carbon dioxide reducing device for operation in microgravity environment; integration of the developed components in 2) and 3) in one device.


This project will be supervised by Dr. Katharina Brinkert, Assistant Professor in Catalysis at the Department of Chemistry, and will be carried out in close collaboration with the European Space Agency/ESTEC in Noordwijk/Netherlands.


For further details, please contact Dr. Katharina Brinkert: