European Space Agency research fellow Alexandre Meurisse and Beth Lomax of the University of Glasgow producing oxygen and metal out of simulated moondust inside ESA’s Materials and Electrical Components Laboratory.
Credit: ESA–A. Conigili


A prototype oxygen plant for the Moon has been set up in the Materials and Electrical Components Laboratory of the European Space Research and Technology Center, ESTEC, based in Noordwijk in the Netherlands.

“Being able to acquire oxygen from resources found on the Moon would obviously be hugely useful for future lunar settlers, both for breathing and in the local production of rocket fuel,” explains Beth Lomax of the University of Glasgow.

The facility’s focus is on oxygen production, extracted from lunar stimulant.

Artist impression of activities in a Moon Base.
Power generation from solar cells, food production in greenhouses and construction using mobile 3D printer-rovers.
Credit: ESA – P. Carril

Oxygen extraction method

According to a European Space Agency statement: “ESTEC’s oxygen extraction is taking place using a method called molten salt electrolysis, involving placing regolith in a metal basket with molten calcium chloride salt to serve as an electrolyte, heated to 950°C. At this temperature the regolith remains solid. But passing a current through it causes the oxygen to be extracted from the regolith and migrate across the salt to be collected at an anode. As a bonus this process also converts the regolith into usable metal alloys.”

The molten salt electrolysis method was developed by UK company, Metalysis, for commercial metal and alloy production.

The ultimate aim of the research is designing a “pilot plant” that could operate sustainably on the Moon, with the first technology demonstration targeted for the mid-2020s. 

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