Lunar soil has the potential to generate oxygen and fuel – Is it up to that?

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Electrolysis is catalyzed by lunar soil

Soil on the moon contains active compounds that can convert carbon dioxide into oxygen and fuel, scientists in China report May 5 in the journal Nature. Joule. They are now exploring whether lunar resources can be used to facilitate human exploration of the moon or beyond.

Nanjing University materials scientists Yingfang Yao and Zhigang Zou hope to design a system that takes advantage of lunar soil and solar radiation, the two most abundant resources on the moon. After analyzing the lunar soil brought back by China’s Chang’e 5 spacecraft, their team found that the sample contained compounds – including iron-rich and titanium-rich ones – that could act as a catalyst. catalyze the production of desirable products such as oxygen by sunlight and carbon dioxide.

Based on the observation, the team proposed an “extraterrestrial photosynthesis” strategy. Essentially, the system uses lunar soil to electrolyze water extracted from the moon and in the astronauts’ breathing gas into oxygen and hydrogen supplied by sunlight. The carbon dioxide exhaled by the lunar inhabitants was also collected and combined with hydrogen from the electrolysis of water in a hydrogenation catalyzed by lunar soil.

This process produces hydrocarbons such as methane, which can be used as fuel. This strategy uses not external energy but sunlight to create a variety of desirable products such as water, oxygen and fuel that could support life on the moon, the researchers say. The team is looking for opportunities to test the system in space, possibly with future Chinese lunar crews.

“We use on-site environmental resources to minimize missile payloads, and our strategy presents the scenario for an affordable and sustainable extraterrestrial habitat,” Yao said. .

Although the catalytic efficiency of lunar soil is lower than those available on Earth, Yao said the team is experimenting with different approaches to improve the design, such as melting lunar soil into a high-entropy nanostructured material, is a better catalyst.

In the past, scientists have proposed many strategies for survival beyond Earth. But most designs require energy from the Earth. For example, NASA’s durable Mars rover carried a device that could use carbon dioxide in the planet’s atmosphere to produce oxygen, but it was powered by an onboard nuclear battery.

“In the near future, we will see the manned spacecraft industry develop rapidly,” said Yao. “Just like the ‘Age of Sails’ in the 1600s when hundreds of ships hit the seas, we will enter the ‘Age of Space.’ But if we’re going to do large-scale extraterrestrial exploration, we’re going to need to think of ways to reduce the payload, that is, to rely on as little of the Earth’s supply as possible and use it instead. use of extraterrestrial resources”.


This work was supported by the National Key Research and Development Program of China, the Main Research Plan of the National Natural Science Foundation of China, the National Natural Science Foundation of China, the National Natural Science Foundation of China, and the National Natural Science Foundation of China. Basic for Central Universities, Guangdong Introductory Program for Innovation and Entrepreneurs Group, Natural Science Foundation of Jiangsu Province. open fund of Wuhan National Laboratory for Optoelectronics, Hefei National Laboratory for Micro-scale Physical Sciences, Civil Aerospace Technology Research Project: Water Extraction at extraterrestrial and Photochemical Synthesis of Hydrogen and Oxygen, and Foshan Xianhu Advanced Energy Laboratory Guangdong Science and Technology Laboratory.

Joule, Yao, Wang, Zhu, and Tu et al. “Extraterrestrial Photosynthesis by Chang’E-5 Lunar Soil.”

Joule (@Joule_CP), published monthly by Cell Press, is a new home for brilliant and insightful research, analysis and ideas addressing the need for more sustainable energy. A sister journal to Cell, Joule spans all scales of energy research, from basic laboratory research into energy conversion and storage to impact analysis at the global level. Visit For Cell Press media alerts, contact [email protected].




10.1016 / j.joule.2022.04.011


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Extraterrestrial photosynthesis by lunar soil Chang’E-5


May 5, 2022

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