Credit: Beth Lomax – University of Glasgow

 

New research provides a proof-of-concept extraction and utilization scheme to process the Moon’s regolith and produce a potentially useful metallic by-product.

The development of an efficient process to simultaneously extract oxygen and metals from lunar regolith could enable sustainable activities on Earth’s next-door-neighbor.

Earth’s Moon looms large in our future.
Credit: ESA/NASA

Metal alloy production

Researcher Beth Lomax of the University of Glasgow reports that with appropriate adjustments to the experimental set-up and operating parameters, leads to the prospect of metal alloy production on the lunar surface.

Samples returned from the lunar surface confirm that lunar regolith is made up of 40-45% percent oxygen by weight, its single most abundant element.

“This oxygen is an extremely valuable resource, but it is chemically bound in the material as oxides in the form of minerals or glass, and is therefore unavailable for immediate use,” explains Lomax.

Credit: Lomax, et al.

Powder-to-powder processing

“The processing was performed using a method called molten salt electrolysis,” Lomax adds in a European Space Agency (ESA) statement.

“This is the first example of direct powder-to-powder processing of solid lunar regolith simulant that can extract virtually all the oxygen,” Lomax explains. “Alternative methods of lunar oxygen extraction achieve significantly lower yields, or require the regolith to be melted with extreme temperatures of more than 1600°C.”

Access by lunar settlers

The work is being supported through ESA’s Networking and Partnering Initiative, harnessing advanced academic research for space applications.

Using local resources on the Moon can help make future crewed missions more sustainable and affordable.
Credit: RegoLight, visualization: Liquifer Systems Group, 2018

James Carpenter, ESA’s lunar strategy officer comments: “This process would give lunar settlers access to oxygen for fuel and life support, as well as a wide range of metal alloys for in-situ manufacturing – the exact feedstock available would depend on where on the Moon they land.”

Details of the research work, led by Lomax, can be found here in the journal, Planetary and Space Science:

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0032063319301758

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