(ORDO NEWS) — Sooner or later, the settlers on the moon will have to become farmers.
ESA‘s new Discovery project, led by the Norwegian company Solsys Mining, is exploring the possibility of using regolith to fertilize plants.
The good news is that analysis of lunar samples brought back to Earth shows the presence of sufficient amounts of essential minerals for plant growth, in addition to nitrogen compounds.
The bad news is that the lunar soil (or regolith) compacts when water is added, creating problems for plant germination and root growth.
Hydroponic farming offers a practical alternative: this type of farming involves directly feeding plant roots with nutrient-rich water without using soil. However, there are still opportunities to use lunar regolith.
The Enabling Lunar Agriculture by Producing Fertilizers from Enriched Regolith, led by Solsys Mining in partnership with the Norwegian Geotechnical Institute (NGI) and the Center for Interdisciplinary Space Research (CIRIS), explores the combination of mechanical, chemical and biological processes for extraction of mineral nutrients from regolith.
Valuable elements may need to be concentrated before use, while unwanted ones are removed.
“This work is essential for future long-term lunar exploration,” comments Małgorzata Cholinska, ESA Materials and Process Engineer.
“Achieving a sustainable presence on the Moon will involve using local resources and gaining access to nutrients present in the lunar regolith that could potentially help grow plants.
The current study represents a proof-of-principle using available lunar regolith simulators, paving the way for more detailed studies in the future.”
The Solsys Mining team is optimistic as they have already grown beans using simulated lunar highland regolith as a nutrient source.
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