Lunar soil includes active molecules capable of converting carbon dioxide into oxygen and fuels, according to new research published in the journal Joule by Chinese scientists. They are researching whether lunar resources may be exploited to aid human exploration of the moon or beyond.
It is costly to launch products into space; therefore, any substance discovered on the moon that does not need to be taken from Earth can save a great deal of money.
Yingfang Yao and his colleagues from Nanjing University in China investigated a lunar soil sample to see if it could be used as a catalyst in a system that converts carbon dioxide and water released by astronauts’ bodies into oxygen, hydrogen, and other valuable byproducts that could be used to power a lunar base.
“The question they are really asking is: ‘Is there something weird about lunar “soil” that will prevent us from doing things that we can do with Earth soil?’ Their answer is no,” says Michael Hecht at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who wasn’t involved in the research.
Yao and his colleagues initially used electron microscopy and X-ray diffraction to discover catalytically active soil components. They found large quantities of iron and magnesium-based chemicals that could be useful in a reaction that closely resembles photosynthesis in green plants.
The soil was then assessed as a catalyst in various chemical reactions as part of a photosynthesis-like process to make hydrogen and oxygen from CO2 and water.
The researchers discovered that the catalytic efficiency of lunar soil is less than catalysts available on Earth. Yao says the team is testing different approaches to improve the design, such as melting the lunar soil into a nanostructured high-entropy material, a better catalyst.
Moreover, Hecht has other obstacles to overcome. For example, the reaction proposed by Yao and his team needs liquifying CO2, which they believe can be accomplished simply by using the moon’s chilly atmosphere — but Hecht is skeptical.
“On the moon, cold temperatures do not allow you to condense CO2; you must shed heat to do it.”
Space achievements are undeniably beneficial. It’s helpful to acquire new information that could help humanity survive on other planets or the Moon. Researchers have previously offered many approaches for interplanetary livelihood. However, the majority of designs require energy from the Earth.
“In the near future, we will see the crewed spaceflight industry developing rapidly,” says Yao.
“Just like the ‘Age of Sail’ in the 1600s when hundreds of ships head to the sea, we will enter an ‘Age of Space.’ But if we want to carry out large-scale exploration of the extraterrestrial world, we will need to think of ways to reduce payload, meaning relying on as little supplies from Earth as possible and using extraterrestrial resources instead.”