According to Chinese researchers, substances from the moon’s floor can help us to make fuel and oxygen on the spot.

If mankind will soon have bases on the moon, it will of course not be useful if we have to continuously supply stuff from the earth to keep things running there. We prefer to make the oxygen your astronauts breathe and the fuel the equipment needs on site. And that’s also possible, set materials scientist Yingfang Yao from Nanjing University in China and colleagues. Thanks to the sun and the moon.

Fuel from astronaut breath

Yao and his team first analyzed the soil samples that the lander Chang’E-5 brought from the moon, using electron microscopes and X-rays. This showed that compared to earlier Apollo samples, the samples contained relatively much iron and magnesium, and relatively few silicon and aluminum compounds.

The next question they tackled was: if you use solar energy to split water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen, can the substances from the moon samples help to speed up that reaction? Yes, as it turned out.

The hydrogen that you gain in this way can then be used to convert carbon dioxide – which is exhaled by astronauts, for example – into methane, again with the help of substances from the moon’s soil. That gas could then serve as fuel.

Carbon dioxide from the ‘air’

However, Yao and colleagues indicate in their scientific paper, published in Joules, admits that the processes they describe “cannot quite meet the requirements for survival beyond Earth.” For that, the effect of the moon dust lags a bit too far behind what comparable substances can do here on earth. To do something about that, they want to see if they can transform the moon sample into a material that can do the job better.

Furthermore, the MIT scientist not involved in the study says Michael Hecht opposite New Scientist that the Chinese researchers still have some other hurdles to overcome. They assume, for example, that you can get liquid carbon dioxide from the ‘air’ on the moon at temperatures of -173 degrees Celsius. According to Hecht, that’s not how it works. “On the moon, a cold temperature doesn’t mean you can condense carbon dioxide. You have to dissipate heat for that.”

space age

Yao, however, seems in good spirits. “Our strategy delivers a scenario for a sustainable and affordable alien shelter,” he says in a statement press release

And according to him, we will certainly have a need for this if the staffed space industry takes off in the coming years. “Just like we had the Sailing Age in the 17th century, the Space Age is now beginning,” says Yao. “But if we really want to explore the alien on a large scale, we have to come up with ways to reduce the amount of cargo. Which means that we need to rely as little as possible on supplies from Earth and instead use extraterrestrial resources.”