Researchers at Northumbria University, Newcastle and Edinburgh University have conceptualized a new type of engine based on Leidenfrost effect – a phenomenon which takes place when a liquid nears contact with a surface much hotter than its boiling point – for producing energy on Mars. The effect is commonly visible when water skitters across the surface of a hot pan, but it even applies to solidified carbon dioxide aka dry ice. The engine shall be deriving energy from carbon dioxide to power human colonies on the Red planet.


This is the first time ever when Leidenfrost effect is being adapted to generate energy. Blocks of dry ice can levitate over hot surfaces shielded by a layer of evaporated gas vapor. This vapor shall be employed to then power the engine. An author of the research explained some of the unique properties of the Leidenfrost-based engine, explaining how different it is from a steam-based engine – the high-pressure vapor layer creates freely rotating rotors whose energy is transformed to power sans the use of a bearing, thus vouching for the low-friction of the engine.

“The working principle of a Leidenfrost-based engine is quite distinct from steam-based heat engines; the high-pressure vapor layer creates freely rotating rotors whose energy is converted into power without the need of a bearing, thus conferring the new engine with low-friction properties,” Wells said.

This technique holds interesting prospects for working in extreme and alien environments, like in the outer space, where it could be used to make long-term exploration and colonization sustainable by making use of the naturally (and abundantly) occurring solid carbon dioxide as a resource and not as a waste product. Dry ice may be plentiful on Earth, but increasing evidence from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) suggests it may be a naturally occurring resource on Mars, as suggested by the periodic appearance of gullies on the surface of Mars. These dry-ice deposits, if utilized properly in a Leidenfrost-based engine, could be the key to create future power station on the surface of the Red planet.

Dr Rodrigo Ledesma-Aguilar, one of the authors of the research, stated that carbon dioxide on Marsh plays a similar role as water does on Earth, is widely available, and undergoes cyclic phase changes as per the changing Martian temperatures. The future power stations on Mars could exploit this energy when dry-ice blocks evaporate, or channel the chemical energy extracted from other carbon-based sources like methane gas. He added that our future on other planet depends on our ability to adapt our knowledge to the imposed constraints of the stranger worlds, and to devise ways to exploit natural resources which do not occur naturally here on Earth.

The study was published in the journal Nature Communications.