I was reading this question about how plausible a Titan rover is and the biggest problem with anything on Titan always seems to be the heating issues for spacecraft, especially the fact that batteries couldn't function at those temperatures. Not even mentioning the distance from the sun making solar panels non-viable.

My question is, mainly, is liquid methane a viable source of heat on titan, could you "burn it" or somehow extract some sort of energy from it to keep a probe functional for extended periods? Would the technology required for this be too large or expensive for the 20km/s delta-V required to get to Titan?

This question states you need Oxygen for Methane to combust, guessing that is not an option-- probably too risky and you need to much of it to be able to bring it with you. Is there another way to consume liquid methane where heat would be a result of the reaction without the need for oxygen (possibly using more native elements like Hydrogen/Nitrogen/Carbon)?

List of elements commonly available in Titan's atmosphere from wikipedia:

The atmospheric composition in the stratosphere is 98.4% nitrogen—the only dense, nitrogen-rich atmosphere in the Solar System aside from Earth's—with the remaining 1.6% composed mostly of methane (1.4%) and hydrogen (0.1–0.2%).

Other elements, that are solid on the surface (from this article):

Carbon dioxide has been suggested as a reasonable compositional component of Titan's surface. The GCMS did tentatively identify CO2 at the surface.

Both data sets suggest a high degree of volume scattering indicating substantial porosity making higher- ε materials including fractured, porous water ice, possible. At the same time, these data preclude substantial exposures of solid sheets of water ice (ε ~ 3.1) in the near surface except perhaps as local outcrops as at Sinlap crater (ε ~ 2.5).

(Carbon, Oxygen, Hydrogen, other hydrocarbons...)

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    $\begingroup$ It's hard to get any more energy out of nitrogen as molecular N2, it's basically "cooked" already. For the methane, while you don't need actual oxygen, you need an oxidizing agent (electron eater) of some sort. If there were some good oxidizers around, they'd probably have found a way to react by now. More about nitrogen: youtu.be/H8XNdqA18-M $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Commented Sep 17, 2018 at 17:11
  • $\begingroup$ @uhoh I'll edit when I get a chance to watch the video here in a few hours. My chemistry understanding is abysmal heh... that's the one course I never took in college. I do want to know more though, I watched some cool stuff on Geranium being used for infrared and it got me interested in chemistry, this series looks awesome and bite-sized, thanks. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 17, 2018 at 17:20
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    $\begingroup$ Er... make that Germanium* not... the flower. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 17, 2018 at 19:41
  • $\begingroup$ @uhoh: Interesting. So with 'cooked' you mean 'oxidized'? $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 9, 2018 at 17:18

2 Answers 2


No, liquid methane in a nitrogen atmosphere is not a useful fuel. Earth is a very special place to have such a reactive substance as oxygen abundantly in the atmosphere, and that's only because plants are constantly generating it from carbon dioxide using solar power. Without some process like that, any combination of chemicals that you could burn to make energy will already have burned (or reacted more slowly) into compounds that don't make good fuels.


You could, but you would probably have to import oxygen or hydrogen peroxide from the Saturn moon Rhea.


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