Scientists Discover How To Harvest Oxygen From Lunar Dirt

Scientists Discover How To Harvest Oxygen From Lunar Dirt

While our moon seems like a pretty inhospitable and barren place, what with no atmosphere and all, but some striking findings have given us hope for brightening up the joint a little. 

Surprisingly, the outer most layer of the moon packed with dust houses a whole bunch of oxygen - about 45% of its composition- and metal alloys that too can be collected. What's better yet, the process of extraction does not produce any waste. So we're not trashing another mini world, which is good. 

The issue lies in the constitution of the dust itself, as the oxygen is mineralised in a crystal or glass-like form making it very difficult to use in that state.

Moon dust before (left) and after (right) the oxygen extraction. (Beth Lomax/University of Glasgow)

Before and after replicant moon dust and the oxygen extraction process. (Beth Lomax/University of Glasgow).

Some will recall classic methods of extraction from space dust, such as chemical reduction to electrolysis but they have historically been high input for very little output in terms of oxygen. 

The new method is called "molten salt electrolysis" and is the first method devised using only powder that extracts nearly 100% of the oxygen.

(Lomax et al., Planetary and Space Science, 2019)

Taking around 50 hours, the process involves adding the moon dust to a mesh basket with calcium chloride shortly after. The mix is heated to 950 degrees celsius, just shy of melting the material, and an electrical current is added to extract the oxygen.

Within the first 15 hours, a considerable 75% of the oxygen is available and the powdered metals - iron/aluminium, iron/silicon, and calcium/silicon/aluminium - left behind are usable as well. 

Even if the method of oxygen extraction becomes ineffectual on the moon, we could still farm vast amount of metals from hat we once thought was useless dust in the deep unknown...

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