Oxygen is a powdery substance is formed via impacts of micrometeorites and can be found covering the whole surface of the moon. Scientists from the University of Glasgow have figured out a way to efficiently extract oxygen from lunar regolith.
According to their study published in the science journal Planetary and Space Science entitled “Proving the viability of an electrochemical process for the simultaneous extraction of oxygen and production of metal alloys from lunar regolith”, the scientists worked with the fact that specimens returned from the lunar surface were known to be made up of regolith, which just happens to be 40-45% percent oxygen by mass.
The main problem with regolith is that the oxygen is chemically bound in the substance as oxides in the form of glass or minerals. It is consequently unavailable for direct use as pointed out by Dr. Beth Lomax, a researcher from the University of Glasgow.
So how do you extract oxygen that is chemically bonded to rock?
University of Glasgow and Regolith – Add some salt, heat and stir…
To extract the oxygen, scientists used a method called molten salt electrolysis.
First, scientists put powdered regolith in a mesh-lined basket with molten calcium chloride salt serving as an electrolyte, heated to 950°C. At this temperature, regolith remains solid. If the scientists then pass a current through the material, it causes oxygen to be extracted.
Using this technique, thus extract the 100% of the oxygen chemically bound in the regolith. Passing a current through it causes the oxygen to be extracted from the regolith. The oxygen collects at the anode (positive electrode). The extraction stats look promising:
- 96% of the total oxygen extracted in 50 hours
- 75% of the total oxygen extracted in 15 hours
This is amazing, considering that other proposed methods of extraction achieve significantly weaker yields.
Not only that, but they researches discovered that they got the extra benefit of a potentially useful metallic by-product. Hence the extraction doesn’t produce waste and the metal byproduct can be used in the building of ships and making rocket fuel.
The production of oxygen from Regolith is an important step towards making colonization of the Moon and Mars possible, as the am technique can be used on Martian soil.
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