One of the facts which made the news either today or yesterday was, that the latest rover which NASA landed on Mars, performed a successful demonstration, of a device “roughly the size of a car battery”, which split Mars’s atmospheric CO2 – of which Mars’s atmosphere is composed to 95% – into breathable oxygen and presumably carbon, resulting in enough oxygen for a Human to breathe “for 10 minutes”. Pictures of the gold-plated device were shown.
According to the news, this was achieved “by applying extreme heat”. At first glance, what was said might almost sound impossible, because of the common-sense knowledge, that if carbon is merely heated in the presence of O2, it burns, CO2 is generated, and the reaction spontaneously goes in the wrong direction. Further, it seems unlikely that NASA used H2 in any way to do this, and one reason to think not would be, the question of where sufficient quantities of H2 would come from.
But what this exercise really demonstrates is the fact that, when it comes to basic operations in Science, such as, to split CO2 into Cs and O2, they are generally available in the modern era. And one way actually to do it would be, to heat the CO2 to a temperature at which it becomes a plasma – hence, electrically conductive – and then, to pass an electric current through it. O2 would form at the anode, and Cs would form at the cathode.
Not only that, but extreme voltages would not even be required, IF the reason for which the CO2 became ionized was thermal.
This approach might benefit from the added fact, that most gasses can be made to ionize slightly more easily, when their density is ‘low’ – such as in Mars’s atmosphere – than they could be made to do so at their natural densities in Earth’s atmosphere.
(Updated 4/24/2021, 15h00… )
I suppose that one way in which my readers could see an inconsistency in what I’ve written about plasmas in general could be, that according to one account, the gas transitions from being molecular to being atomic first, before becoming ionic, while according to another version, it goes directly to being ionic.
In reality, this apparent contradiction could arise, because two different gasses are being transformed into plasmas.
I would say that, if the molecules of gas consist of different elements, which have greatly different electronegativity, then separating into atoms will also imply separating into ions.
Along those lines, I know that it’s also possible for pure carbon to become gaseous. In this example, there could be ambiguity in whether the carbon has also become a plasma. In theory, because the element ‘carbon’ has a valence of (4), solid carbon will separate into short chains, at lower temperatures than would be required to separate it into single atoms. In its chained, superheated form, it’s quite plausible that some of the chain-ends will carry a negative charge, while others could carry a positive charge…