Lunar Earth can be used to generate oxygen and fuel for astronauts on the moon

An artistic impression of the shape of the lunar floor. Researchers investigating whether the moon’s resources can be used to facilitate human exploration on the moon or beyond, have reported that the lunar floor contains active compounds that can convert carbon dioxide into oxygen and fuel. Credit: ESA – P. Carril

Earth on the moon contains active compounds that can convert carbon dioxide into oxygen and fuel, according to a new study conducted by scientists in China and published May 5, 2022 in the journal. joule† They are currently investigating whether lunar resources can be used to facilitate human exploration on the moon or beyond.

Materials scientists Yingfang Yao and Zhigang Zou from Nanjing University hope to be able to design a system that uses the moon’s earth and solar radiation, the two most common sources on the moon. After analyzing the lunar Earth brought back by the Chinese spacecraft Chang’e 5, the research team found that the sample contained compounds – including iron- and titanium-rich materials – that could act as a catalyst to produce desired products such as oxygen using of from sunlight and carbon dioxide.

lunar soil sample

This image shows a sample of lunar Earth brought by the Chinese spacecraft Chang’e 5. Credit: Yingfang Yao

Based on the observation, the team proposed an “alien photosynthesis” strategy. Basically, the system uses lunar soil to decompose water taken from the moon and into the astronauts’ exhaust to oxygen and hydrogen powered by sunlight. The carbon dioxide emitted by the lunar inhabitants is also collected and combined with hydrogen from water electrolysis during the lunar earth-stimulated hydrogenation process.

The process produces hydrocarbons such as methane that can be used as fuel. The researchers say the strategy does not use external energy but sunlight to produce a range of desirable products, such as water, oxygen and fuel, that can support life at the lunar base. The team is looking for an opportunity to test the system in space, likely with future Chinese manned lunar missions.

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This diagram shows how the moon’s earth can act as a catalyst for alien photosynthesis to produce the oxygen and fuel needed for long-term survival on the moon. Credit: Yingfang Yao

“We use on-site environmental resources to reduce missile payload, and our strategy provides a scenario for sustainable and affordable alien habitat,” Yao said.

Although the catalytic efficiency of lunar earth is lower than the available catalysts on Earth, Yao says the team is testing several ways to improve the design, such as melting lunar earth into a highly entropy nanomaterial, which is a better catalyst.


This video shows the electrolysis of water powered by photovoltaic cells stimulated by the lunar soil. Credit: Yingfang Yao

In the past, scientists have proposed many strategies for alien survival. But most designs require power sources from scratch. e.g,[{” attribute=””>NASA’s Perseverance Research Team With Lunar Soil Sample

This photograph shows the research team at Nanjing University holding the lunar soil sample. Credit: Yingfang Yao

“In the near future, we will see the crewed spaceflight industry developing rapidly,” says Yao. “Just like the ‘Age of Sail’ in the 1600s when hundreds of ships head to the sea, we will enter an ‘Age of Space.’ But if we want to carry out large-scale exploration of the extraterrestrial world, we will need to think of ways to reduce payload, meaning relying on as little supplies from Earth as possible and using extraterrestrial resources instead.”

Reference: “Extraterrestrial photosynthesis by Chang’E-5 lunar soil” by Yingfang Yao, Lu Wang, Xi Zhu, Wenguang Tu, Yong Zhou, Rulin Liu, Junchuan Sun, Bo Tao, Cheng Wang, Xiwen Yu, Linfeng Gao, Yuan Cao, Bing Wang, Zhaosheng Li, Wei Yao, Yujie Xiong, Mengfei Yang, Weihua Wang and Zhigang Zou, 5 May 2022, Joule.
DOI: 10.1016/j.joule.2022.04.011

This work was supported by the National Key Research and Development Program of China, the Major Research Plan of the National Natural Science Foundation of China, the National Natural Science Foundation of China, the Fundamental Research Funds for the Central Universities, the Program for Guangdong Introducing Innovative and Entrepreneurial Teams, the Natural Science Foundation of Jiangsu Province. the open fund of Wuhan National Laboratory for Optoelectronics, the Hefei National Laboratory for Physical Sciences at the Microscale, the Civil Aerospace Technology Research Project: Extraterrestrial In-situ water Extraction and Photochemical Synthesis of Hydrogen and Oxygen, and Foshan Xianhu Laboratory of the Advanced Energy Science and Technology Guangdong Laboratory.

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