NASA’s in-situ resource utilization (ISRU) mission is to put in place a sustainable infrastructure that will allow human habitation on with Moon with minimal support from earth. One particular resource available on the lunar surface is regolith which consists of metals (Fe, Al, Si, …) bond to oxygen in the form of metal silicates. Extraction and recovery of metals and oxygen from the regolith could be used to support human life on the moon. For instance, recovered metals could be used to forge tools and components require for daily life, while the oxygen could be used life support and for propellants. Faraday Technology and RoCo Global will demonstrate an ionic liquid-assisted electrochemical extraction process to recover metals and oxygen from lunar regolith. The advantages of this method include: High-rate regolith digestion; High purity metal recovery; High purity oxygen recovery; Low temperature operation < 150°C; Low energy requirement; and, Scalable manufacturing platform. In Phase I, Faraday and RoCo will optimize the ionic liquid to rapidly digest metal silicates like feldspar. Next, Faraday will demonstrate and optimize the electrochemical recovery of metals and oxygen from the ionic liquid containing the digested metals and water. Finally, the electrochemical process will be used to regenerate the ionic liquid for digestion of additional metal silicates. The results of this study will provide a basis for transition planning, safety analysis, and an alpha scale semi-continuous system design. Alignment of this technology for future NASA (Artemis) and commercial missions (Xelene) is critical for future integration and with the help our team we will assess safety and system robustness metrics required for Phase IIE/III. In Phase II we will build the semi-continuous ionic liquid-assisted electrochemical extraction system and optimize the recovery and regeneration parameters based on the input from NASA and our commercial partners.
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 to feed life support systems or as propellants. Simultaneous metal reclamation could be used to facilitate the formation of structures, tools, or components from Lunar soil.
The potential terrestrial customer could be in the metal smelting industries. Aluminum ore is transformed to Al by the Hall-Héroult which simultaneously outgasses large quantities of CO2. The ionic liquid-assisted electrochemical extraction process has the potential to eliminate greenhouse gas emission from Hall-Héroult. If successful the global Aluminum market size was $194 billion in 2021.