Lunar soil has the potential to generate oxygen and fuel

(ORDO NEWS) — Soil on the moon contains reactive compounds that can convert carbon dioxide into oxygen and fuel, Chinese scientists report May 5 in the journal Joule. Now they are studying whether lunar resources can be used to facilitate human exploration of the Moon or other territories.

Materials scientists at Nanjing University, Yingfang Yao and Zhigan Zou, hope to develop a system that takes advantage of lunar soil and solar radiation, two of the richest resources on the moon.

After analyzing lunar soil brought back by China’s Chang’e-5 spacecraft, their team found that the sample contained compounds, including iron- and titanium-rich substances, that could act as a catalyst to produce essential products such as oxygen using solar energy. light and carbon dioxide.

Based on these observations, the team proposed a strategy for “extraterrestrial photosynthesis”. Basically, the system uses lunar soil to electrolyze water extracted from the Moon and astronaut waste into oxygen and hydrogen produced by sunlight.

The carbon dioxide exhaled by the inhabitants of the moon is also collected and combined with hydrogen produced by the electrolysis of water, in a hydrogenation process catalyzed by the lunar soil.

This process produces hydrocarbons such as methane, which can be used as fuel. The strategy does not use any external energy other than sunlight to produce various desirable products such as water, oxygen and fuel that could support life on a lunar base, the researchers say. The team is looking to test the system in space, possibly as part of China’s future crewed lunar missions.

“We will use local environmental resources to minimize the rocket’s payload. Our strategy provides a scenario for a sustainable and accessible extraterrestrial habitat,” says Yao.

Although the catalytic efficiency of lunar soil is lower than the catalysts available on Earth, Yao says the team is testing different approaches to improve the design, such as melting lunar soil into a nanostructured, high-entropy material, which is a better catalyst.

Previously, scientists have proposed many strategies for extraterrestrial survival. But most projects require energy sources from the Earth. For example, NASA’s Perseverance rover brought back an instrument that can use carbon dioxide in the planet’s atmosphere to produce oxygen, but it’s powered by a nuclear battery on board.

“In the near future, we will see the rapid development of the crewed spaceflight industry,” says Yao. “Like the ‘age of sail’ in the 1600s, when hundreds of ships put to sea, we will enter the ‘age of space’.

But if we want to conduct large-scale exploration of the extraterrestrial world, we will have to think about how to reduce the payload, that is rely on as few supplies from Earth as possible and use local, space resources instead.”

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