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Blue Origin: Solar cells made from lunar soil? (engineering)

C C Offline

INTRO: For decades scientists and engineers have talked about using the dusty lunar surface to manufacture solar panels. All of the key ingredients for solar cells are present in this rocky and dusty regolith on the surface of the Moon—silicon, iron, magnesium, aluminum, and more.

The abundance of these ingredients has led to hundreds of research papers exploring this idea since lunar soil was returned to Earth during the Apollo program but relatively little engineering development. In other words, we don't know whether covering the Moon with solar panels is simply a great science fiction idea, or if it would actually work.

But now, we may have an answer to the question. On Friday, in a blog post not even promoted by the company's Twitter account or a news release, Blue Origin quietly said its "Blue Alchemist" program has been working on this very topic for the last two years. The company, founded by Jeff Bezos, has made both solar cells and electricity transmission wires from simulated lunar soil—a material that is chemically and mineralogically equivalent to lunar regolith.

The engineering work is based on a process known as "molten regolith electrolysis," and Blue Origin has advanced the state of the art for solar cell manufacturing. In this process, a direct electric current is applied to the simulated regolith at a high temperature, above 1,600° Celsius. Through this electrolysis process, iron, silicon, and aluminum can be extracted from the lunar regolith. Blue Origin says it has produced silicon to more than 99.999 percent purity through molten regolith electrolysis... (MORE - details)
Kornee Offline
Considerably worse again than Mars, lunar colonists will be in for a very unhealthy low g environment. Or are there realistic plans for gigantic merry-go-round living quarters - like the 1950s visioned space station in 2001: A Space Odyssey - but planted on the barren airless ground? One shudders to think of the engineering/logistics challenges and overall costs involved.

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