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Production of Oxygen from Lunar Regolith by Molten Oxide ElectrolysisThis paper describes the use of the molten oxide electrolysis (MOE) process for the extraction of oxygen for life support and propellant, and silicon and metallic elements for use in fabrication on the Moon. The Moon is rich in mineral resources, but it is almost devoid of chemical reducing agents, therefore, molten oxide electrolysis is ideal for extraction, since the electron is the only practical reducing agent. MOE has several advantages over other extraction methods. First, electrolytic processing offers uncommon versatility in its insensitivity to feedstock composition. Secondly, oxide melts boast the twin key attributes of highest solubilizing capacity for regolith and lowest volatility of any candidate electrolytes. The former is critical in ensuring high productivity since cell current is limited by reactant solubility, while the latter simplifies cell design by obviating the need for a gas-tight reactor to contain evaporation losses as would be the case with a gas or liquid phase fluoride reagent operating at such high temperatures. Alternatively, MOE requires no import of consumable reagents (e.g. fluorine and carbon) as other processes do, and does not rely on interfacing multiple processes to obtain refined products. Electrolytic processing has the advantage of selectivity of reaction in the presence of a multi-component feed. Products from lunar regolith can be extracted in sequence according to the stabilities of their oxides as expressed by the values of the free energy of oxide formation (e.g. chromium, manganese, Fe, Si, Ti, Al, magnesium, and calcium). Previous work has demonstrated the viability of producing Fe and oxygen from oxide mixtures similar in composition to lunar regolith by molten oxide electrolysis (electrowinning), also called magma electrolysis having shown electrolytic extraction of Si from regolith simulant. This paper describes recent advances in demonstrating the MOE process by a joint project with participation by NASA KSC and MSFC, and Ohio State University and MIT. Progress in measuring cell efficiency for oxygen production, development of non reacting electrodes, and cell feeding and withdrawal will be discussed.
Document ID
Document Type
Conference Paper
Curreri, Peter A. (NASA Marshall Space Flight Center Huntsville, AL, United States)
Date Acquired
August 24, 2013
Publication Date
February 24, 2009
Subject Category
Man/System Technology and Life Support
Report/Patent Number
Meeting Information
Space Propulsion and Energy Sciences International Forum(Hunstville, AL)
Distribution Limits
Work of the US Gov. Public Use Permitted.