Scientists have found a way to extract oxygen from the moon's soil
The best part is that the process doesn't produce any waste and the by product metal alloys obtained can be used for other purposes.
Scientists have found a large amount of oxygen present in the lunar regolith and also figured a way out to extract it.
The lunar regolith is the top layer of the moon's surface, and is similar to the soil on earth. It is quite abundant. It includes dust, soil, broken rock, and other related materials that are present on various planets including earth.
Scientists found that 40 to 50 per cent by weight of the regolith is oxygen.
How is it going to help?
The best part is that the process doesn't produce any waste and the by product metal alloys obtained can be used for other purposes. They can also be useful while building bases or colonies on the moon.
But what's the catch?
"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," says chemist Beth Lomax from the University of Glasgow in Scotland.
The previous process of extraction
Since the samples of the lunar regolith are too valuable to experiment with, scientists have created 'fake' lunar dirt called lunar regolith simulant.
The team did the electrolysis of the powdered regolith. "The processing was performed using a method called molten salt electrolysis. This is the first example of direct powder-to-powder processing of solid lunar regolith simulant that can extract virtually all the oxygen," Lomax explained.
The process took around 50 hours to extract 96 per cent of the oxygen. But 75 per cent of the oxygen can be extracted in the first 15 hours.
"This is the first successful demonstration of solid-state powder-to-powder regolith simulant processing that yields metal alloys as products," the researchers wrote in their paper.
Scientists are expecting to use the same technique to extract water from suspected water ice reserves on the Moon.
The best method until now?
Earlier attempts to extract oxygen were not as productive as this method.
"Alternative methods of lunar oxygen extraction achieve significantly lower yields, or require the regolith to be melted with extreme temperatures of more than 1,600 degrees Celsius (2,900 F)”.
One third of the total gas extracted is ‘off gas’ but it is still a vast improvement from the previous techniques.