Producing Oxygen and Fuel on the Moon

oxygen moon astronaut
Credit photo: NASA

Artificial photosynthesis on the Moon is now a reality thanks to the work of two scientists from Nianjing University.

As part of the Chang’e 5 project, the Chinese Space Agency returned to Earth with lunar soil samples. These materials were evaluated by Yingfang Yao and Zhigang Zou of Nanjing University. Data demonstrates the presence of chemicals in lunar soils that may function as catalysts in chemical reactions analogous to photosynthesis. Their work, published in Joule, also proposes a system that, using just solar energy, can create oxygen and fuel out of carbon dioxide and water.

The researchers’ system for artificial photosynthesis on the Moon consists of the following components: Electrolysis is first used to separate hydrogen and oxygen from water molecules (H 2 O) extracted from the lunar soil and collected from the astronauts’ breath. Rocket fuel is also made using carbon dioxide captured from astronauts’ breath and hydrogen gas extracted from water through electrolysis. Catalysts for all of these reactions may be found in the lunar soil’s unique composition (the substance that increases the rate of reactions without being consumed). The suggested system relies only on solar power. There is no need for any further energy input.

The chemicals in lunar soils are said to be ineffective as catalysts compared to Earthly counterparts. There is hope, however, that by applying diverse techniques to the lunar soils, more effective catalysts may be created.

In the 2030s, the Chinese Space Agency plans to send humans on Moon expeditions. It is hoped that during such missions, the intended artificial photosynthesis system, or an improved version thereof, may be put to the test. If the planned approach is effective, future settlers to the Moon could be able to establish a colony that can support human life.

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