Blue Origin Details Ambitious Lunar Plan To Smelt Moon Dust Into Unlimited Solar Power
Blue Origin recently shared Blue Alchemist, which it believes can safely provide unlimited solar power wherever it is needed on the moon. The concept utilizes a process known as molten regolith electrolysis and has a very useful byproduct.
The space company says it has been making solar cells and transmission wire from regolith simulants since 2021. What makes the idea even more pertinent is the fact that it uses materials that are found in an abundance on the lunar surface and that one of the byproducts of the process is oxygen. Blue Origin believes its Blue Alchemist could enable sustained lunar operations.
The current process begins by using regolith simulants that are chemically and mineralogically the same as lunar regolith. The lunar regolith is then processed by a reactor that produces iron, silicon, and aluminum through molten regolith electrolysis. During this process, an electrical current "separates those elements from the oxygen to which they are bound."
NASA has also been working on using lunar regolith to produce oxygen. Kevin Grossman, a materials science expert at Kennedy Swamp Works, remarked, "We could use the oxygen for astronaut life support as well as an oxidizer for fuel. We could use the metal for infrastructure and to 3D print vehicles and tools for sustaining and expanding human presence there (the Moon)."
Blue Origin's proprietary transport subsystem purifies silicon to more than 99.999%. It says that this level of purity is necessary to create efficient solar cells. One of the advantages of the new process is that it does not use large amounts of toxic and explosive chemicals, like those used on Earth. Instead, it utilizes sunlight and the silicon from the reactor.
One of the components the solar cells will need to ensure longevity in a harsh environment is a cover glass. The technique used by Blue Alchemist uses molten regolith electrolysis byproducts to produce the cover glass needed, ensuring the entire process can be done using only materials found on the moon's surface.
As NASA and independent contractors, such as Blue Origin, continue to look for ways to make space travel more feasible and safer, the resulting benefits for humanity here on Earth are also compelling. Blue Origin believes that since the technology produces solar cells with zero carbon emissions, no water, and no toxic ingredients or other chemicals, it has the potential to be extremely useful on Earth as well.