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In the book, The Martian, I know that the oxygenator cools the air in the hab to separate out the gases. Then it somehow splits CO2 to get oxygen. What mechanism does it use to split the CO2?

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From the page 231 of the book:

It heats CO2 to 900°C, then passes it over a zirconia electrolysis cell to yank the carbon atoms off.

Thanks Sean Duggan for pointing me to NASA's 2020 Mars mission tech, which includes MOXIE, an experiment in doing the same thing. It works via:

MOXIE uses a solid oxide electrolysis (SOXE) stack developed by Ceramatec, Inc. for converting CO2 to O2. Its working elements are stacked scandia stabilized zirconia (ScSZ) electrolyte supported cells with thin screen printed electrodes that are coated with a catalytic cath­ode on one side and an anode on the other.

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  • The next question is whether that would actually work. But that's a question for another site.
    – Kevin
    Oct 6, 2015 at 16:46
  • @Kevin Tada. The answer's yes.
    – user1027
    Oct 6, 2015 at 17:23
  • with enough energy, you can rearrange molecules as you like.
    – Oldcat
    Oct 6, 2015 at 17:32
  • What does it do with the carbon?
    – Xantec
    Oct 6, 2015 at 17:47
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    @user1027 - vents both CO and O2? Kinda makes you wonder if the totally interchangeable connectors on all the hoses are really as good an idea as Mark thinks ...
    – davidbak
    Feb 4, 2016 at 2:29

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