The ALTAWS (Alkaline Low-Temperature Aluminum from Waste Slag) process proposes to take what is currently process waste from oxygen and iron extraction in the Pioneer Astronautics MMOST (Moon to Mars Oxygen and Steel Technology). Slag and beneficiation waste from MMOST will be targeted as ALTAWS feed, though ALTAWS as a first processing step feeding MMOST will also be examined. Ultimately the ALTAWS technology will enable greater oxygen extraction than the MMOST process alone, while also providing valuable aluminum and silicon feedstocks for a greater NASA lunar presence.
The ALTAWS process consists of two primary steps: 1) Alkaline extraction of alumina and silica, and 2) a molten electrolysis to reduce teh oxides to metals. Aluminum is the primary target material, with side production of oxygen and silicon. Process equipment will be modified from the MMOST program to help validate the ALTAWS process. Process design, modelling, and optimization will also be used to determine both the feasibility of ALTAWS, as well as the most optimized configuration that combines the MMOST and ALTAWS processes to produce a combination of aluminum, silicon, iron, and oxygen from lunar regolith.
The results of the ALTAWS Phase I study will be the equipment, experimental data, and process design simulations fed into a feasibility study to determine the best usage of the technology moving forward in conjunction with MMOST. In Phase II, the process design from Ph I would be developed into an automated vacuum ALTAWS demonstration with the system build to be delivered to NASA. In Phase III, an optimized process would be developed into an ALTAWS flight experiment to be landed on the lunar surface.
The ALTAWS program will provide key technology to NASA for metals and oxygen extraction necessary for manned lunar base and permanent lunar presence. The primary aluminum product is directly relevant as a construction material (structures and reflectors), with secondary oxygen being necessary for habitation and rocket fuel. The silicon will be a valuable feedstock for further purification to be used in electronics and PV applications. The aluminum and silicon would also find use in energy carrier/storage systems.
Waste reduction of existing Bayer processes through water and NaOH recycle being developed as part of ALTAWS. Also, the advancement of the FFC Cambridge electrowinning process in the ALTAWS program could open doors for terrestrial commercial use targeting improvements in energy efficiency and product purity.