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Molten Oxide Electrolysis

Production of Materials and Energy From Lunar Resources
The vision is to develop two key technologies, the first to produce materials (oxygen, metals, and silicon) from lunar resources and the second, to produce energy by photocell production on the Moon using these materials. Together, these two technologies have the potential to greatly reduce the costs and risks of NASA's human exploration program. Further, it is believed that these technologies are the key first step toward harvesting abundant materials and energy independence from Earth's resources.

The goal of this research effort is to advance the MOE process for the extraction of oxygen for life support and propellant, and silicon and metallic elements for use in fabrication of thin-film solar cells. The Moon is rich in mineral resources, but it is almost devoid of chemical reducing agents; therefore, MOE is chosen for extraction, since the electron is the only practical reducing agent.

Basics of the Molten Oxide Electrolysis Process
The Moon is rich in mineral resources capable of sustaining the production of Si as well as a variety of metals, e.g., Fe, Al, and Ti. However, the extraction of these elements will require the use of rather different processes from those used on Earth. For example, mineral beneficiation has been an enduring paradigm terrestrial extractive metallurgy for economic reasons, but the reliance on such unit operations as froth flotation with its attendant consumption of huge quantities of water summarily disqualifies beneficiation from consideration in the lunar setting. To eliminate the need for beneficiation prior to processing and to minimize the import of consumable reagents from Earth, the advancement of the known technology of MOE to space operations for the production of electronic grade Si and metallurgical grade Fe, Al, Ti, and Si using lunar regolith as feedstock that has not been subjected to any form of pretreatment (fig. 2). In addition to providing the materials for photocell production, the metals and oxygen produced will serve as feedstock for lunar in-space manufacturing, life support, and propulsion needs.

More information:

  • Process Demonstration For Lunar In Situ Resource Utilization - Molten Oxide Electrolysis NASA/TM - 2006-214600 - August 2006

    For more information, please contact:
    ISFR/ISRU/Dust Project Manager: Carole A. McLemore
    (256) 544-2314

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    NASA - National Aeronautics and Space Administration
    Curator: Anthony Goodeill
    NASA Official: Carole McLemore