At first, I found it surprising, but when I did some research and had a second though about it, I learned that when NASA or any other space agency launches a space ship, it consumes about 773 tons of ammonium perchlorate, and releases some 230 tons of hydrochloric acid immediately after launch.
And we didn’t count the carbon dioxide and the other gases released, that I believe would amount to some thousands cars’ emissions during their lifetime. And that happens every time a shuttle leaves the Earth, all of that funded by the US Government, who, on the other hand, cares about the environment.
All of that is about to change. Driven by a need to use a fuel that can be produced on water-bearing planets and pressured by environmentalists, researchers are working to develop a new type of rocket fuel, made of a frozen mixture of water and “nanoscale aluminum” powder with the thickness of 80 nanometers, that could be easily manufactured on the moon, Mars or any other planet having water on it.
The aluminum powder, aka ALICE, can be used to launch the rockets into their orbit, fuel long-distance space missions and generate hydrogen for the fuel cells, says Steven Son, an associate professor of mechanical engineering at Purdue University, who is working with NASA, the Air Force Office of Scientific Research and Pennsylvania State University to develop ALICE, used earlier this year to launch a 9-foot-tall rocket.
“ALICE might one day replace some liquid or solid propellants, and, when perfected, might have a higher performance than conventional propellants,” said Timothee Pourpoint, a research assistant professor in the School of Aeronautics and Astronautics. It’s also extremely safe while frozen because it is difficult to accidentally ignite,” he added.
Producing hydrogen gas from water and aluminum is not a new idea, the reaction being widely experimented by DIY-ers for a long time, but the fact that NASA uses it could give it a boost to widen its uses, since it produces only water and aluminum oxide. I can’t wait to see the first hydrogen-powered flight!
I have actually written about such a discovery producing hydrogen from water and aluminum several months ago.