Among the numerous technological advances sought in order to facilitate human exploration and habitation on Moon, solutions and innovations are needed for processing local resources to support sustainable and long duration space missions. Such in-situ resource utilization (ISRU) is aimed at reducing the payload mass during launch and eliminate the need for ground support for long-term missions and ultimately space colonization. One particular need for habitation and deep space exploration is the continuous supply of oxygen for life support and for propellants in the form of liquid oxygen. As missions are foreseen to extend with limited accessibility of earth resupply, the availability of oxygen will become critical. Electrochemical methods coupled with ionic liquids offer low-temperature, scalable solutions for oxygen extraction at large scales. In Phase I, Faraday and Liquid Ion Solutions will design and investigate an ionic liquid-assisted electrochemical process capable of recovering oxygen from lunar regolith. A task specific ionic liquid for the solubilization of minerals and metals found in lunar regolith will be developed, and followed by an electrochemical liquid-liquid-solid process utilizing engineered electric fields, for oxygen recovery with simultaneous silicon electrodeposition as a potentially useful byproduct. Toward the end of Phase I, the project team will estimate the scalability and performance expectation of the proposed design and evaluate its potential to achieve the 1.85 kg O2/hr target within the NASA solicitation. Phase II will develop, design, and fabricate a sub-scale lunar regolith oxygen extraction system. These efforts will enable further understanding of the processing parameters requirements and promote new commercial relationships within Phase III. This technique will also enable substantial development in metal recovery, recycling, and refining industries, and will be an integral part of successful mission development within NASA.
The ability to utilize available resources on planets and moons is critical during extended space exploration. The proposed technology would support longer-term activities and eventual establishment of facilities on the lunar surface capable of supporting human missions, while reducing launch costs of excess materials. Oxygen recovered through this technology could be used for life support and propellants. Simultaneous reclamation of materials could be used to facilitate the formation of structures from the available elements from Lunar’s soil.
The potential customer for the proposed technology would be those interested in recovering valuable materials from ore, waste or recycling streams. Specifically, the proposed process is positioned to attract interest from not only the domestic metal ore industries and high material loss processes, but also from large-scale companies with mineral/metal recovery operations.