Cambridge Astronomical Association
(CAA)
&
Cambridge Young Astronomers
(CYA)

 


Speaker Meeting

Oxygen from Moonrock
Friday 18th January 2022
Start time : 20:00

Speaker : Mark Symes


One of the key enabling strategies that will allow astronauts to live on the Moon (or Mars) for extended lengths of time is known as In-situ Resource Utilisation (ISRU), the extra-terrestrial equivalent of “living off the land”. In situ production of oxygen is especially attractive, as oxygen will be required at scale, not only for breathing, but also as an oxidising propellant for return to Earth and/or onward missions into deep space. Recent research undertaken in Glasgow, in collaboration with Metalysis Ltd and the European Space Agency, suggests that both oxygen and potential materials for manufacturing could be sourced in-situ from the most abundant resource on the Moon – moonrock itself.

In this talk, we will discuss our recent proof-of-concept publication (Planet. Space Sci. 2020, 180, 104748) describing the electro-deoxidation of a powdered solid-state lunar regolith simulant (“moonrock simulant”) using an oxygen-evolving SnO2 anode in a Metalysis-FFC (Fray, Farthing, Chen) process. This publication constitutes the first study of regolith reduction by this process to fully characterise and quantify both the anodic (oxygen) and cathodic (alloy) products. Analysis of the resulting metallic powder shows that 96% of the total oxygen was successfully extracted to give a mixed-metal alloy product. We anticipate, with appropriate adjustments to the experimental set-up and operating parameters, to be able to isolate essentially all of the oxygen from lunar regolith using this process, leading to the exciting possibility of concomitant oxygen generation and metal alloy production on the lunar surface.


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About our speaker:

Mark Symes is a Royal Society University Research Fellow and Senior Lecturer in the School of Chemistry, University of Glasgow. He obtained a PhD in supramolecular chemistry from the University of Edinburgh (2005-2009, with Prof. David A. Leigh, FRS) and subsequently undertook postdoctoral work at MIT with Prof. Daniel Nocera (2009-2010), conducting electrochemical and photochemical studies on models of cobalt oxy-hydroxide water-oxidising catalysts. After returning to the UK, he joined the group of Prof. Lee Cronin at the University of Glasgow (Nov. 2010 - Sept. 2013), during which time he developed new systems for the overall electrolysis of water. From October 2013 to September 2016, he held a Kelvin Smith Fellowship at the University of Glasgow, which allowed him to establish his own independent research group focusing on electrochemistry, electrocatalysis and energy conversion, especially for the more sustainable production of fuels and chemical feedstocks by electrochemical means. He is also interested in the applications of electrochemistry for enabling space exploration. Mark was elected to the Royal Society of Edinburgh's Young Academy of Scotland in August 2016, and he is currently the Chair of the RSC Electrochemistry Interest Group committee (having previously been the secretary of the same, 2017-2019). He has organised numerous conferences and workshops in recent years, both in-person and online.

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