New Water Treatment Technology Could Fix Mars Soil and Earth Soil

UC Riverside engineers have developed a catalyst to remove a dangerous chemical from water on Earth that could also make Martian soil safer for agriculture and help produce oxygen for human Mars explorers.

Perchlorate, a negative ion consisting of one chlorine atom bonded to four oxygen atoms, occurs naturally in some soils on Earth, and is especially abundant in Martian soil. As a powerful oxidizer, perchlorate is also manufactured and used in solid rocket fuel, fireworks, munitions, airbag initiators for vehicles, matches and signal flares. It is a byproduct in some disinfectants and herbicides.

Because of its ubiquity in both soil and industrial goods, perchlorate is a common water contaminant that causes certain thyroid disorders. Perchlorate bioaccumulates in plant tissues and a large amount of perchlorate found in Martian soil could make food grown there unsafe to eat, limiting the potential for human settlements on Mars. Perchlorate in Martian dust could also be hazardous to explorers. Current methods of removing perchlorate from water require either harsh conditions or a multistep enzymatic process to lower the oxidation state of the chlorine element into the harmless chloride ion.

Changxu Ren and Jinyong Liu noted anaerobic microbes use molybdenum in their enzymes to reduce perchlorate and harvest energy in oxygen-starved environments.

“Previous efforts in constructing a chemical molybdenum catalyst for perchlorate reduction have not been successful,” Liu said. “Many other metal catalysts either require harsh conditions or are not compatible with water.”

“This catalyst is much more active than any other chemical catalyst reported to date and reduces more than 99.99% of the perchlorate into chloride regardless of the initial perchlorate concentration,” Ren said.

The new catalyst reduces perchlorate in a wide concentration range, from less than 1 milligram per liter to 10 grams per liter. This makes it suitable for use in various scenarios, including remediating contaminated groundwater, treating heavily contaminated wastewater from explosives manufacturing, and making Mars habitable.

Journal of American Chemical Society- A Bioinspired Molybdenum Catalyst for Aqueous Perchlorate Reduction


Perchlorate (ClO4–) is a pervasive, harmful, and inert anion on both Earth and Mars. Current technologies for ClO4– reduction entail either harsh conditions or multicomponent enzymatic processes. Herein, we report a heterogeneous (L)Mo–Pd/C catalyst directly prepared from Na2MoO4, a bidentate nitrogen ligand (L), and Pd/C to reduce aqueous ClO4– into Cl– with 1 atm of H2 at room temperature. A suite of instrument characterizations and probing reactions suggest that the MoVI precursor and L at the optimal 1:1 ratio are transformed in situ into oligomeric MoIV active sites at the carbon–water interface. For each Mo site, the initial turnover frequency (TOF0) for oxygen atom transfer from ClOx– substrates reached 165 h–1. The turnover number (TON) reached 3840 after a single batch reduction of 100 mM ClO4–. This study provides a water-compatible, efficient, and robust catalyst to degrade and utilize ClO4– for water purification and space exploration.

SOURCES- Journal of American Chemical Society, UC Riverside
Written by Brian Wang,