Blue Origin, the aerospace manufacturer owned by Jeff Bezos, has received $35 million in funding from NASA to further advance its commercial solution for extracting silicon from lunar regolith. Silicon is one of the main raw materials used to make solar panels.
Lunar regolith is present on the Moon, Mars, and Earth. It consists of dust, fragmented rocks, and related materials.
Blue Origin’s innovative molten regolith electrolysis technology aims to produce unlimited electricity and power transmission cables on the lunar surface. The company intends to demonstrate autonomous operation in a simulated lunar environment by 2026.
Blue Origin’s scalable and contactless process involves melting and manipulating molten regolith using a reactor to generate iron, silicon, and aluminum. By subjecting the molten regolith to electrical current, the technology separates these elements from oxygen.
Blue Origin asserts that this method can yield silicon with a purity of 99.999% and exceptionally durable solar glass, solely utilizing byproducts from molten regolith electrolysis.
The alignment of Blue Origin’s objective with NASA’s goal of developing Moon-to-Mars infrastructure has led to the funding. NASA has been exploring solar cells from regolith since 2005, when it designed a solar-powered robotic rover capable of constructing solar cells directly on the lunar surface. In 2005, the University of Houston successfully developed silicon and cadmium sulfide/cadmium telluride thin film photovoltaic diodes deposited on lunar regolith substrates.
Aside from Blue Origin, Tallinn University of Technology (TalTech) in Estonia is also involved in the research and development of solar cells from regolith. TalTech introduced a sandpaper-like solar cell last year, utilizing monograin-powder technology with numerous tiny crystals embedded in a polymer layer. Low-cost roll-to-roll techniques may also be employed for production.
The funding from NASA will expedite Blue Origin’s endeavors to unlock the potential of lunar regolith. Before too long, you might see solar panels made from Moon rocks available for sale.
Image Source: interestingengineering.com, https://shorturl.at/bEV19