Lunar Oxygen Production and Metals Extraction Using Ionic Liquids

Abstract

Introduction: The objective of this work is to develop a safe, efficient, and recyclable method for oxygen and/or metals extraction from lunar regolith, in support of establishing a manned lunar outpost. The approach is to solubilize the oxides that comprise lunar regolith in media consisting of ionic liquids (ILs) and/or their mixtures at temperatures at or below 300oC. Once in solution, electrolysis can be performed in-situ to generate oxygen at the anode and hydrogen and/or metals (silicon, iron, aluminum, titanium, etc.) at the cathode. Alternatively, the water that is generated during the solubilization process can be distilled out and condensed into a separate IL and then electrolysized to produce hydrogen and oxygen. In the case of lunar regolith, this method could theoretically produce 44g oxygen per 100g of regolith. The oxygen can be used for human life support and/or as an oxidizer for rocket fuels, and the metals can be used as raw materials for construction and/or device fabrication. Moreover, the hydrogen produced can be used to re-generate the acidic medium, which can then be used to process additional regolith, thereby making the materials recyclable and limiting up-mass requirements. An important advantage of IL acid systems is that they are much "greener" and safer than conventional materials used for regolith processing, such as sulfuric or hydrochloric acids. They have very low vapor pressures, which means that they contain virtually no toxic and/or flammable volatile content. Additionally, they are relatively non-corrosive, and they can exhibit good stability in harsh environments (extreme temperatures, hard vacuum, etc.). Furthermore, regolith processing can be achieved at lower temperatures than other processes such as molten oxide electrolysis or hydrogen reduction, thereby reducing initial power requirements.

Cite this paper

@inproceedings{Marone2009LunarOP, title={Lunar Oxygen Production and Metals Extraction Using Ionic Liquids}, author={Matt Marone and Mark S. Paley and David N. Donovan and Laurel J. Karr}, year={2009} }