The Journey to Mars Gets a Lot More “Interesting”

Look Familiar? Credit: Dos Equis

Look Familiar?
Credit: Dos Equis

OK. So the rocket doesn’t actually have a NASA logo anywhere on it, and the launch site is definitely not Cape Canaveral, but Dos Equis has certainly decided to borrow some very familiar imagery for its commercial featuring Jonathon Goldsmith in his final performance as “The Most Interesting Man in the World.”

With its clearly identifiable solid rocket boosters and now familiar shape, the may be the best press NASA’s Space Launch System has received to date. And its not even Cinco de Mayo yet!

Perhaps even more refreshing than the light lager from south of the border is the fact that for once at least, people are actually going to Mars, rather than desperately trying to return from it.

Fortunately beer lovers don’t have to go to Mars in order to benefit from some NASA technology. As this recent article in NASA’s Spinoff describes, Mars’ most passionate advocate advocate, Robert Zubrin has combined a love of craft beer with some very creative in-situ resource utilization to help brewers recover and re-use the CO2 which is naturally created as yeast does it magical work.

From Spinoff:

Technology for Mars Puts Bubbles into Beer

At the end of a long day of work, many people like to grab a cold pint of beer. Few of them think about the bubbles in the glass and how much brewers have to pay to put them there. But Robert Zubrin — president of the Mars Society and founder of multiple aerospace technology companies — does.

Zubrin and his companies have worked with Johnson Space Center’s In Situ Resource Utilization (ISRU) team for years, developing technologies that could take existing substances on Mars — especially Martian air, which is 96 percent carbon dioxide (CO2) — and turn them into fuel, oxygen, drinkable water and other crucial resources.

Artist Depiction of Manned Mission on Mars
Pioneer Energy’s system is based on technology designed to help future missions to Mars use resources on the Red Planet to manufacture fuel, oxygen and other crucial substances for the trip home.
Credits: NASA

The systems also have a range of applications on Earth, including an oil and natural-gas recovery technology Zubrin has developed and commercialized.

But when he’s not working to change this world or colonize others, Zubrin also enjoys a good microbrew. Now, he’s found a way to use space technology to recycle fermentation-created CO2 to help cut costs for brewers.

Air on Mars, Bubbles on Earth

“When you ferment beer, the process that produces alcohol also produces carbon dioxide,” explains Zubrin, noting that CO2 is also necessary later, to carbonate the beverage. Major breweries have multi-million dollar systems that capture and purify the CO2 produced during fermentation so it can be used later for carbonation and other functions, such as purging tanks.

These expensive systems, however, aren’t economical for the vast majority of craft breweries proliferating in the United States. Instead of capturing, processing, and storing CO2, small brewers instead let the gas dissipate into the air during fermentation, only to have more of it trucked in from supply companies later on, paying an average of $200 to $300 per ton.

Enter Lakewood, Colorado-based Pioneer Energy, with its CO2 Craft Brewery Recovery System, developed from technologies created to harvest, liquefy and store the gas on Mars. The mobile cart gives small brewers capabilities similar to those enjoyed by their large-scale competitors.

“Our system produces about five tons of carbon dioxide per month,” says Zubrin, adding that this amount could supply a brewery that makes up to 60,000 barrels of beer per year. For those making more, the units can be stacked to increase capacity.

Pioneer Energy’s CO2 Craft Brewery Recovery
Pioneer Energy’s CO2 Craft Brewery Recovery System can recapture about five tons of carbon dioxide per month, enough for a brewery that generates up to about 60,000 barrels per year, and units can be stacked to increase that capacity.
Credits: Pioneer Energy

Automated Success

A typical proposal for a mission to the Red Planet includes plans to send the return vehicle two years in advance of the crew, during which time the vehicle would autonomously produce resources both for the mission and the journey home. Any system for mixing and matching molecules on Mars, therefore, would also have to be fully automated using techniques like those Zubrin has worked out during his years of ISRU work.

Similarly, the CO2 Craft Brewery Recovery System can only save money if it doesn’t require an employee’s attention, Zubrin says. “On a smaller scale, this thing’s got to be totally automated, too. The robotic control you would need for a system on Mars is key to this.”

By mid-2015, the company had received more than a dozen orders for the system, which went into production late last year. Pioneer also has a unit that it brings around the country for demonstrations. Zubrin says the market potential is considerable: “Within the United States, there are several thousand breweries that would be targets for this, and probably 20,000 worldwide.”

He credits his NASA work as the foundation for the project, which he hopes will save breweries around the world money and greenhouse gas emissions.

“The intellectual capital being developed in NASA’s research and development programs is playing out across the economy, and this is just a small example,” Zubrin says. “The intellectual capital is the big spinoff.”

To learn more about this NASA spinoff, read the original article from Spinoff 2016.

End story

One additional note here. While Dos Equis wants you to associate the allure of Mars with its Lager, and others might tend to think of the Red Planet as inspiring an Amber, or a Red Ale, true beer lovers know that it is the Martian version of an IPA that is waiting to be made famous. After all, the most popular of craft beer styles owes its origins to the effort to produce a beer which could survive the 6 months long sea voyage from England to India during the Age of Sail without spoiling. Now it is the Space Age, and Mars. like India once did, awaits at the end of a 6 month voyage.

The possibilities are endless.

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1 Comment on "The Journey to Mars Gets a Lot More “Interesting”"

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  1. drasnor says:

    You had me at the title but the photograph of one brewer heat-gunning the liquefied CO2 dewar while the brewmaster stands around “supervising” is really what convinced me of the system’s legitimacy.

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